The summer heat has arrived in full force as a scorching heat wave sweeps across the country. We’re just halfway through the month of June, and temperatures are already ranging from 10 to 30 degrees above normal for this time of year. Yikes! And, unfortunately, there is no sign of relief in sight. In fact, meteorologists predict that much of the country will continue to see above-normal temperatures through August.
As temperatures soar, the risks of heat-related injuries and fatalities for employees and guests rise. Believe it or not, heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In 2019, 884 people died and 2,061 were injured in the U.S. from exposure to excessive heat. As an employer and/or business owner, it’s important to take steps to prevent heat-related injuries this summer.
4 ways to prevent heat-related injuries
Heat-related injuries, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat rash and Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown), can occur with just a short period of heat exposure. And, when these injuries occur, time is of the essence as these conditions can escalate quickly. The good news is that heat-related illnesses and injuries can be prevented. Here are some practical tips for preventing heat-related injuries:
1. Train supervisors and workers to recognize symptoms of heat-related injuries
Prevention starts with training your team on the risk of extreme heat exposure, how to recognize heat-related injury symptoms. Common symptoms include confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, seizures, heavy sweating, high body temperature, rapid heart rate, fatigue, thirst, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, muscle spasms and weakness. When any of these symptoms become present, your team should be prepared to promptly provide first aid.
2. Evaluate heat hazards
Heat conditions can change rapidly and being aware of increased heat hazards is critical in preventing heat-related injuries. Take time to identify and control the heat hazards present in your workplace or business. OSHA lists several factors that impact heat-stress risk:
- Environmental conditions (such as air temperature, humidity, sunlight, and air speed), especially on sequential days.
- Presence of heat sources (e.g., hot tar ovens or furnaces) in the work area
- Level of physical activity, i.e., the workload leading to body heat production
- Use of clothing or protective gear that can reduce the body’s ability to lose excess heat
- Individual/personal risk factors
Employers should not only be aware of local heat advisories from the National Weather Service, but also continuously evaluate the heat hazards listed above to determine if the working conditions are too hot.
3. Monitor those who are most vulnerable
Everyone handles heat exposure differently and some are more susceptible to heat-related injuries than others. It’s important to closely monitor those who are more vulnerable to heat-related injuries, such as:
- People who work in the heat, such as construction workers, landscapers, servers and bartenders.
- People wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Infants and young children, especially if left in hot cars
- People 65 and older
- People who are ill, have chronic health conditions or are on certain medications
- People who are overweight
4. Reduce heat stress through engineering controls and modified work practices
When overheating is a concern, OSHA advises implementing engineering controls and modifying work practices. A variety of engineering controls can make the working environment cooler and reduce workers’ and guests’ exposure to heat, such as air conditioning, cooling/misting fans, reflective shields to redirect radiant heat, insulation of hot surfaces and cooled seats for rest breaks. Unfortunately, not all areas can be cooled through these engineering controls. When this is the case, employers can modify work practices by:
- Modifying work schedules and activities for workers who are new to warm environments
- Scheduling work at cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon
- Scheduling shorter shifts
- Requiring mandatory rest breaks in cooler environments
- Reducing physical demands as much as possible by planning the work to minimize manual effort
- Rotating job functions among workers to help minimize exertion and heat exposure
- Ensuring workers drink an adequate amount of water or electrolyte-containing fluids
Be Protected for the Unexpected
We hope you take time to follow these tips for preventing heat-related injuries this summer. Kemmons Wilson Insurance Group is here to help you assess and mitigate the risks your business faces. Contact an expert at KWIG to review your insurance coverage and risk management programs. We provide tailored insurance and risk management solutions to the problems you don’t see coming.