Colorado gets hot in the summertime. For most people, the hot weather is nothing more than a source of discomfort. However, for workers who labor outdoors – like landscapers, construction workers, agricultural employees and road crews – warm temperatures can cause serious injury or even death.
Nationwide, thousands of workers suffer from heat-related illnesses or injuries every year. If left unchecked, heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke, which kills an average of 30 workers each year. Working outside in hot weather is so dangerous because the physical exertion from labor causes body temperatures to rise faster than sweating can cool workers down.
Thankfully, most heat-related work injuries can be prevented by employing proactive safety strategies. Outdoor workers should take frequent rest breaks in a cool, shaded area and should drink plenty of water, even if they do not feel thirsty. Caffeinated beverages like soda pop, coffee or iced tea aren’t a good substitute for water, since caffeine acts as a diuretic.
Workers also need to monitor their own physical conditions when working outdoors. Headaches, dry mouth and fatigue are early signs of dehydration, while heat exhaustion usually starts with muscle cramps or unexplained rashes. Workers who notice any of these symptoms should get out of the sun immediately and should seek medical attention if their symptoms don’t improve with rest and water.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has made heat safety one of its key issues for summer 2012. Workers or employers who would like more information on preventing heat-related illnesses and injuries can contact OSHA for safety information and training curricula. In addition, OSHA offers a mobile phone application that workers can use to monitor heat conditions at their job sites.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, “US Labor Department Kicks Off Summer Campaign to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses and Fatalities Among Outdoor Workers,” May 7, 2012.