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Last summer, we saw temperature records shattered throughout the nation. In fact, in some areas of California, temperatures spiked to 118 degrees. And, this year, we’ve already seen the type of summer we’re in for: muggy, hot afternoons that leave us breathless and wondering if we could really fry an egg on the pavement.
Over Memorial Day weekend alone, as we hit the pool and fired up the barbecue, an extreme heat wave overtook the Southeastern United States, and temperatures soared to record-breaking triple-digit highs — leaving all of us wondering how we’re going to handle the brutal heat over the next few months.
When temperatures reach such staggering triple-digit highs, heat-related illnesses surge. If you and your employees are working in the summer heat, you need to understand the dangers of heat-related illnesses and how best to protect your employees.
The Dangers of Heat-Related Illnesses
As an employer, it is your obligation to protect your workers from the dangers of the job they’re performing. This is a benefit not only to you because you keep your most important asset—your employees—safe, but you’ll also enjoy lower workers’ comp premiums in the absence of claims.
This summer, you should expect to see extreme temperature hikes. And if you and your employees work outdoors, then you’re in danger of suffering from a heat-related illness. The dangers are real and severe. As you and your employees work this summer, understand the following heat-related illnesses than can arise:
- Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related illness, and requires immediate medical attention. Heat stroke is so severe that the signs and symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack. The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, the absence of sweating coupled with red or flushed dry skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, confusion, seizure, and even coma.
- Heat Exhaustion: Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
- Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps, and often come alongside heat exhaustion. The cramps are involuntary, brief, intermittent, and usually go away on their own.
- Heat Syncope (fainting): When the weather reaches extreme temperatures, some people may even experience fainting. Fainting symptoms include nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, vision problems, and unconsciousness.
- Heat Rash: Heat rash occurs on the skin, and will appear as a cluster of small red pimples or blisters. The rash can be itchy, and typically appears on the neck, upper chest, groin, and in elbow creases.
Heat-related illnesses, which range from the extreme of heat stroke to more minor issues like heat rash, will keep your employees from performing at their best. Because of the dangers, to protect your employees—and to protect your company—we strongly recommend that you develop a comprehensive Heat Stress Prevention Program.
How to Develop a Heat Stress Prevention Program
A Heat Stress Prevention Program can help you and your employees avoid heat-related illnesses this summer. In your Heat Stress Prevention Program, you must keep two key tenets in mind: avoiding heat-related illnesses in the first instance, and what to do if you or an employee does succumb to the heat.
Help Employees Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses
Although the temperatures are rising, there are simple steps that your company can implement to keep employees safe. Keep the following in mind:
- Don’t work during the hottest parts of the day: Temperatures are lower during the early morning and late evening than they are in the afternoon, so try to avoid having employees perform strenuous activity during peak afternoon hours.
- Drink fluids: Provide employees working outdoors with plenty of water and other non-alcoholic fluids. Staying hydrating allows the body to sweat and naturally regulate body temperature.
- Limit sun exposure: Sunburn impacts the body’s ability to cool down. To limit the possibility of sunburn, provide your employees with, or encourage them to wear, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
- Wear lightweight clothing: Encourage your employees to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing to help keep body temperature down.
- Understand if you or an employee is at increased risk: Some people are more at risk of heat-related illnesses than others, including the elderly and those taking certain medications. Encourage your employees to know if they’re on a medication that has side effects like dehydration. In addition, be sure to post in any job ads whether the job will require significant time outdoors.
Treating Heat-Related Illnesses
If someone at your company believes that they or a co-worker is suffering from a heat-related illness, the next step is to properly treat that illness. Please remember that If you or an employee is ever having a severe heat-related reaction, then you should seek immediate medical attention.
For more minor concerns, you can take the following steps:
- Move yourself or the affected person to a cool area;
- Stay out of direct sunlight;
- Drink fluids, including water and sports drinks;
- Apply a cold, wet cloth to face, neck, chest, and limbs;
- Loosen clothing;
- Use a fan;
- Massage any muscles that are cramping.
As you create your Heat Stress Prevention Program, keep these tips in mind to keep you and your employees safe.
Leap | Carpenter | Kemps Insurance Agency is Here to Help You Handle the Heat
We know that temperatures are on the rise, and heat-related illnesses are only going to become more prevalent this summer. To protect your employees and your company, be sure that you have adequate workers’ compensation. We understand that workers’ compensation coverage can be confusing to navigate. If you have questions about your coverage, or are looking to enroll in a policy, speak with one of our knowledgeable agents today.