SALEM, Ore. - As summer temperatures rise, so do the dangers of working in high heat. That’s especially true in Oregon, where workers tend to be used to working in mild weather and are frequently not accustomed to high temperatures.
As a result, Oregon OSHA encourages employers and workers in construction, agriculture, and other labor-intensive activities to learn the signs of heat illness and focus on prevention.
“Prevention really comes down to taking several important precautions,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “They include regularly providing water, rest, and shade; gradually adapting workers to hot environments; and training employees to recognize signs of trouble and to speak up about them.”
Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and even seizures or death. From 2012 to 2017, 37 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses.
The call to address the hazards of working in high heat is part of a larger effort aimed at preventing heat-related illness. Under an emphasis program run by Oregon OSHA, the agency’s enforcement and consultation activities will include a review of employers’ plans to deal with heat exposure, especially from June 15 through Oct. 1 of each year.
The prevention program applies to both outdoor job sites and indoor workplaces where potential heat-related hazards may exist. Oregon OSHA encourages employers to fill out 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 at http://osha.oregon.gov/OSHAPubs/pubform/heat-sample-program.pdf
Here are some tips for preventing a 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. 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 can calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA heat stress app for mobile phones: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html.
Get more information about heat stress and prevention of heat-related illnesses: http://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/topics/heat-stress.aspx.
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 www.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.