The summer season has arrived, and with it come additional health hazards in your work environments. Each year, thousands of workers exposed to extreme heat and/or humid conditions die or become ill from heat stress and other heat related illnesses. For this reason, it is important to be mindful of the signs and symptoms of heat stress and protect your (and your colleagues') health this summer. This is especially important while working in extreme environments such as rooftops, where there is little to no shade available for workers.
While heat safety strategies are simple to implement, they are frequently overlooked. OSHA's Campaign to Keep Workers Safe in the Heat has broken down their message into three words to help understand the basic principles:
WATER, REST, & SHADE
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for protecting workers against extreme heat. Employers must provide workers with water, rest, shade and training on the prevention of heat stress and what to do in case of an emergency.
Employers must also provide an acclimatization period for existing and new workers, as necessary. Acclimatization allows the body to build tolerance to working in the heat and can take longer than 14 days, depending on the work environment and/or individual factors, such as increased risk of heat illness due to certain medical conditions.
Employers are also required to monitor their workers for signs of illness. Even so, workers should remember these important tips while working in the field:
Know the signs and symptoms of heat stress and other heat-related illnesses
Common symptoms include: fatigue, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, headache and/or dizziness, pale skin and nausea. Monitor yourself, and use a buddy system where possible.
Heat illnesses and heat stress can occur due to overexposure to high temperatures, humidity, direct sunlight and other thermal exposures. Working on dark roofs puts you at even higher risk for heat illness since the roofing material will absorb the suns heat and increase the surrounding air temperature significantly.
Heat illness is also strongly related to the heat index, a measurement of how hot it really feels when humidity is factored into air temperature. OSHA's Heat Safety Tool is a smartphone application that allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index and risk level for their work site.
Drink plenty of fluids and avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which can lead to faster dehydration
Before you begin working for the day, make sure that cool water is available and easily accessible. Each worker should drink a liter of water over one hour, or roughly one cup every 15 minutes. Drink before you are thirsty so as not to dehydrate yourself.
Rest in the shade frequently and choose the right clothing
Block out direct sun wherever and whenever possible. Make sure you take frequent breaks away from the roof. Rest and cool down in fully shaded and/or air-conditioned areas.
Heat illnesses can be exacerbated by clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE). It is important to wear lightweight, light colored and loose fitting clothes while working. Just like the dark roofing materials, dark colored clothing will absorb heat and make you hotter.
Be sure to stay safe while working outside during the hot summer months. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses, don't forget to drink plenty of fluids, and stay out of the direct sunlight as much as you possibly can.
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