Keys to prevention: water, rest, shade
After more than 85,000 downloads, OSHA's Heat Safety Tool is still a life-saver. As part of a national outreach campaign to prevent heat illness among outdoor workers, OSHA developed a mobile application in 2011. The campaign centers on three simple words: water, rest, shade. Now in its third consecutive year, the heat campaign continues to provide resources to spread awareness among employers and workers, including temporary workers not acclimated to high temperatures. Partnerships with the National Weather Service, meteorologists, and alliances with employers and organizations have been critical to saving lives and promoting others to join the campaign. Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor who heads OSHA, answers three questions about preparing workers for extreme heat.
Who is affected? Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are at risk of heat illness, especially those engaged in heavy work tasks or wearing bulky protective clothing and equipment. Workers not yet acclimatized to working in hot weather, particularly new workers, may be at greater risk of heat illness.
What is heat illness? The body normally cools itself by sweating. During hot weather, especially when coupled with high humidity, sweating may not be enough. Body temperature can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention and, if not treated, can result in death.
How can heat illness be prevented? Remember three simple words: water, rest, shade. Employers should provide workers with water, rest, and shade and educate them on how drinking water frequently, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat help prevent heat illness. Workers should also be trained to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and employers should include prevention steps in work-site training and plans. Gradually engaging in heavy, physical labor helps workers build up tolerance to the heat, especially those who are new to working outdoors in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Lastly, during the first week of work, employers should gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks. You should plan for an emergency and know what to do; acting quickly can save lives.
Dr. Michaels also made the following additional recommendations:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you're not thirsty.
- Rest in the shade to cool down.
- Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
- Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers.
OSHA has developed a number of publications in English and Spanish to help workers and employers prevent heat illnesses. More information.