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OSHA advice: Prevent workers’ illnesses in extreme heat

Oregon OSHA

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Heat illness poses a serious threat to workers whenever they are not prepared for hot weather. Temperatures are already high and, as they rise again this – and every – summer, Oregon OSHA urges employers to focus on prevention.

Prevention includes providing water, rest, and shade; gradually adapting workers to hot environments; and training employees to recognize the signs of heat illness and to raise concerns immediately.

“Employers need to take the threat of heat illness seriously, which means acting sooner – not later – to put the appropriate safeguards in place,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, statewide health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “And they don’t have to go it alone. Oregon OSHA is ready to help with free expert advice and a variety of educational resources.”

Addressing the threat of heat illness on the job may become more challenging for employers and workers this summer as they also implement measures – including face coverings – to protect against COVID-19.

Depending on the situation, they may consider certain steps. Those include adjusting work practices, including performing work during the coolest part of the day; making sure workers get regular breaks, shade, and water (with appropriate physical distancing); and using cooling masks or face shields.

Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and even seizures or death. From 2016 to 2020, 46 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses (at least three days away from work).

Oregon OSHA encourages employers and workers in especially labor-intensive industries, including construction and agriculture, to work together to prevent heat-related illness.

The call to address the hazards of working in high heat is part of an Oregon OSHA emphasis program. Under the program, the division’s enforcement and consultation activities include a review of employers’ plans to address heat exposure, especially from June 15 through Oct. 1 of each year.

The prevention program applies to both outdoor jobsites and indoor workplaces where potential heat-related hazards may exist. Oregon OSHA urges employers to create a heat illness prevention plan. The plan outlines everything from risk factors and precautionary steps to locations of water and cooling areas.

Employers can get a sample heat illness prevention plan in English and Spanish.

Here are some tips for preventing heat-related illness:

  • Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
  • Use the buddy system (work in pairs) to monitor the heat.
  • Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
  • Wear light, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing (such as cotton).
  • Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas – allow your body to cool down.
  • Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
     

To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:

  • Move them to a cool, shaded area (the inside of a hot vehicle is not appropriate). Do not leave them alone.
  • Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
  • Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
  • Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
  • If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.

Employers may also consider using the following resources to help protect their workers from heat stress:

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Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, enforces the state’s workplace safety and health rules and works to improve workplace safety and health for all Oregon workers. For more information, visit osha.oregon.gov.

The Department of Consumer and Business Services is Oregon’s largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. For more information, go to www.dcbs.oregon.gov.

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