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Beat the heat with these heat illness prevention tips

Heat stressThe summer heat is just starting to crank up, bringing hot humid weather across the U.S. For those who work in greenhouses and outdoors, it can make for long, uncomfortable, and even dangerous days.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in 2014, 2,630 workers suffered from some form of heat illness, with 18 dying from heat stroke and related causes on the job. But heat illnesses and deaths are preventable—if you know what to do.

Tips to prevent heat illnesses

A prevention program at your business is a good first step. OSHA recommends employers:

  • Provide workers with water, rest, and shade
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase their workloads and take more frequent breaks until they’ve built a tolerance for working in the heat
  • Train workers on how to avoid and identify heat illness
  • Observe workers for signs of trouble

Normally, your body sweats to cool off in hot and humid weather. But if it’s particularly humid, sweating may not be enough. That can cause the body’s internal temperature to rise to a dangerous level. That’s when heat exhaustion or heat stroke can strike. There are ways to protect yourself and your workers:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes—even if you aren’t thirsty
  • Take a rest in the shade to cool down
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing

Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees, so extra rest and water breaks should be required. Tasks that require heavy protective clothing or equipment can also make people more susceptible to heat illnesses. Be sure to check on your employees at regular intervals. However, realize all workers are at risk during a heat wave. The following are different types of heat illnesses and their signs.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness occurs after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures. It’s often accompanied by dehydration. Seek assistance if you see signs of:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Cramps
  • Weakness
  • Sweaty skin
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fatigue

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious of heat illnesses and often occurs as a progression of milder heat-related illnesses, such as the aforementioned heat exhaustion. Notify your supervisor or call 911 immediately if you see signs of:

  • Lack of sweating with red, hot, dry skin
  • High body temperature (only a medical professional can get an accurate reading)
  • Rapid pulse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion, strange behavior, agitation, hallucinations, and disorientation
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Fainting

Administering first aid

If one of your employees show signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, here are some basic first aid measures:

  • Have someone stay with the employee until help arrives
  • Start the cooling process immediately
  • Get the person into the shade or in an air-conditioned environment
  • Fan while misting the victim with water to promote evaporation and cooling
  • Give them fluids if they’re conscious and able to drink (do not provide alcohol or caffeine)
  • Remove outer clothing if possible
  • Apply cool water to the victim using what’s available (garden hose, sponge, shower, etc.)
  • Place ice packs or cool towels on the back of their neck, under armpits, and groin

If the person stops breathing, perform CPR and call 911 immediately.

California regulations

The state of California has taken it one step further and drafted regulations that require heat illness prevention. California employers are required to take these four steps to prevent heat illness at their businesses:

  • Training: All employees and supervisors must know and understand the dangers of heat illness and how to prevent it.
  • Water: Employers must provide enough water so each employee can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage them to do so.
  • Shade: Workers must have access to shade and be encouraged to rest and cool down for at least five minutes. Employees should not wait until feeling sick before resting and cooling down.
  • Planning: Employers must develop and implement written procedures for complying with these standards.

This is just a basic summary of California’s Heat Illness Prevention Program. The actual regulations are more detailed and applies to all outdoor places of employment. California residents can learn more on the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention website.

Where and when does this standard apply?

This standard applies to all outdoor places of employment. In addition, the following industries are subject to additional requirements in high heat (95°F or above):

    1. Agriculture
    2. Construction
    3. Landscaping
    4. Oil and gas extraction
    5. Transportation and delivery of agricultural products and of construction or other heavy materials (e.g., furniture, lumber, freight, cargo, cabinets, industrial or commercial materials)

Cal/OSHA interprets the standard’s provisions to apply at all times when employees work outdoors. Some provisions are triggered at specific times.

What is meant by “outdoor places of employment”?

An outdoor place of employment is best thought of as one that is not an indoor workplace. A workplace with a roof and enclosed sides is generally considered an indoor workplace.

For the purposes of this standard, the distinguishing quality of indoor workplaces is that they reduce the risk factors that commonly lead to heat illness.

For example, a building that provides sufficient ventilation and cooling, either by natural or mechanical means, and blocks exposure to direct sunlight will be considered an indoor workplace. Sheds, packing sheds, and partial or temporary structures such as tents, lean-tos, and structures with one or more open sides can be either indoor or outdoor workplaces depending on the circumstances.

In many cases, these structures may be hotter than the environment outside of them because of heating by the sun and conditions inside like limited air circulation or lack of insulation. Cal/OSHA considers a structure in this category to be an outdoor workplace if it does not significantly reduce the net effect of the environmental risk factors that exist immediately outside of the structure.

On the other hand, open areas like agricultural fields, forests, parks, equipment and storage yards, outdoor utility installations, tarmacs, and roads are obvious examples of outdoor workplaces. Outdoor workplaces also include construction sites in which no building shell has been completed and areas of construction sites that are outside of any building shells that may be present. Outdoor areas adjacent to buildings, (e.g., loading docks) are also considered outdoor places of employment if an employee spends a significant amount of time working in them.

Educate now, stay healthy later

It’s important to understand the dangers of heat illnesses and the things you can do to prevent you and your employees from getting hurt—or worse. You can also find more information on heat illness prevention on the Federal OSHA Heat Illness website.

As always, if you have questions about heat safety—or any safety issue—contact your Hortica agent today.