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Employee Safety

Heat Illness Prevention

When temperatures and humidity rise, employees risk heat-related illness, which can be fatal. Even in years with no heat wave, hundreds of heat-related deaths occur in the United States. Since Cal/OSHA implemented its heat illness prevention regulations in 2005, 28 workers have died from heat-related health problems. Heat is a particularly serious hazard in outdoor work such as agriculture and construction.

Employees performing manual work will normally develop sweat. This is the body mechanism for cooling itself. However, during extremely hot weather, and especially hot humid weather, sweating is not enough. That’s when the body begins to develop heat stress symptoms. The progression of heat-related illness is as follow:

  • Heat rash - skin irritation from excessive sweating
  • Heat cramps - muscle pains or spasms that happen during heavy exertion
  • Heat exhaustion - heavy sweating, rapid breathing and a fast, weak pulse
  • Heatstroke - The most serious heat related illness in which body temperature may rise above 106° F in minutes; symptoms include dry skin, rapid pulse, dizziness, confusion, irrational behavior, convulsions, and coma,. More than twenty percent of heat stroke cases result in death.

Employers developing a Heat Illness Prevention program should consider the following tips in preventing heat illness:

  • Provide plenty of fresh water to the employees
  • Salt tablets should not be used – It can raise blood pressure, cause stomach ulcers, and seriously affect workers with heart disease.
  • Provide access to shade when the temperature exceeds 85o F
  • Schedule hot jobs for cooler times of the day or cooler seasons of the year.
  • Limit exposure time and/or temperature. Allow the employees to gradually adapt to exposure to the heat.
  • Take rest breaks in cool areas
  • Add more workers to reduce the workload on each employee or reduce the workday.
  • Use engineering controls such as mechanize heavy jobs or increase air movement with fans or coolers.
  • Instruct the employees to wear loose, lightweight clothing to prevent heat buildup.

Resources:

  • Training on the new Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention regulation is available through Alma Balmes, Risk Analyst / Safety Program Manager at 510-272-6698 or tie-line 2-6698.
  • A sample Heat Illness Prevention Plan (PDF - 378kb)* is found in the Cal/OSHA Safety Plans and Programs section. For assistance in customizing a plan for your Agency/Department, please contact Alma Balmes, Risk Analyst / Safety Program Manager at 510-272-6698 or tie-line 2-6698.

On-line Resources:

* Portable Document Format (PDF) file requires the free Adobe Reader.

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