When working in hot environments, it can be easy to dehydrate, overexert yourself, and expose yourself to dangerous heat levels. As a result, employees who work in such conditions are more prone to different types of heat-related illnesses, which take many forms and can have varying effects on the body. Some of these illnesses are also not as apparent as others until it’s too late. Therefore, knowing the risks of heat-related illness and taking precautions are essential for anyone working in a hot environment. Here you’ll learn and understand the causes of occupational heat exposure, heat-related illness, preventions and also factors that contribute to heat-related illness in work environments:
What Causes Occupational Heat Exposure
The temperature of the environment is the main contributor to occupational heat exposure. At the same time, other factors such as humidity, ventilation, and clothing also affect how much dangerous heat an employee will be exposed to when working. These factors and their interactions can put workers at a higher risk of heat-related illness. Below are some of the causes of occupational heat exposure:
Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identifies “the relative amount of water in indoor air” as a factor that affects occupational heat exposure. Humidity makes indoor environments feel hotter than they actually are. Since humidity is immeasurable, it is essential to look at indoor air temperature and relative humidity when determining if a workspace is too hot.
Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air compared with the amount in that air at a specific temperature. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a range of 20%-60% indoor humidity levels. Humidity levels above 50% can cause discomfort in indoor environments and lead to more severe health conditions.
Ventilation refers to the amount of airflow in a given space. It is crucial to workplace ventilation because it removes “excess heat, humidity, carbon dioxide, odors, and airborne chemicals.” Ultimately, it helps prevent heat-related illnesses.
- Prolonged Exposure and Acclimatization
When working in a hot environment, it is common for employees to experience some symptoms of heat-related illness. However, their bodies will become more accustomed to the heat with time. As a result, their bodies will be better able to regulate their temperatures and sweat levels. This phenomenon is known as acclimatization. As employees’ bodies acclimate to their surroundings, they can experience signs of discomfort less often and for shorter periods. However, they must remain vigilant of their bodies and work conditions to stay safe and healthy.
- Health Conditions and Bad Habits
Certain health conditions and bad habits can make it more difficult to combat the effects of excessive heat. This can increase the risk of severe health conditions, such as heat stroke, due to overexposure and dehydration. Some health conditions that can put employees at a higher risk for heat-related illness include diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, medications such as diuretics can also affect the body’s ability to regulate heat. Bad habits, such as drinking excessive amounts of caffeine, can also make it more difficult to regulate heat. These bad habits can lead to dehydration and put employees at an increased risk of different heat-related illnesses.
- Poor Work Clothing
The type of clothing employees wear in a hot environment can also contribute to their risk of heat-related illness. Clothes not made for the conditions put workers at greater risk of heat-related illness because they do not allow the body to cool down enough. This is why wearing proper protective gear when needed is essential.
Types of Heat-Related Illness
Workers in hot environments will most likely experience some discomfort due to overheating. However, when these symptoms worsen and are accompanied by signs of illness, they are considered heat-related illnesses. The following are the types of heat-related illnesses:
- Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are classic symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you experience nausea, a strange metallic taste in your mouth, or vomiting, it could be a sign that your core body temperature is rising. If you experience these symptoms, you should stop what you are doing immediately and seek shelter in a cooler environment. It is important to remember to drink water to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance. In addition, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention.
- Light-headedness and Dizziness
Light-headedness, dizziness, and headaches are typical signs of hyperventilation, a common result of heat exhaustion. If you experience any of these symptoms, you must stop what you are doing and seek shelter in a cooler environment. It is also essential to regulate your breathing and drink water to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance.
- Muscular Cramping
Muscular cramps often develop alongside other heat-related illnesses. This is because the body cannot regulate core temperature, causing muscles to overheat. Muscular cramping often begins in the lower extremities and moves upward. Rest in a cool and hydrated environment.
- Skin discoloration/Heat Rash
Skin discoloration or heat rash is a common sign of heat exhaustion. For example, if your skin appears red and blotchy, it could signify heat stress that results in excessive sweating. If you experience skin discoloration, drink water to maintain hydration or buy and install evaporative coolers around your working environment.
Preventing Heat-Related Illness
A person’s risk of heat-related illness can be reduced by staying hydrated, dressing appropriately, and avoiding overexertion, among other signs. Additionally, look for signs of heat-related illness in co-workers to help them avoid serious consequences. The following are ways to prevent this heat-related illness.
- Stay Hydrated Throughout the day: The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to stay hydrated. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends drinking 1.5 liters of water per day when working in a hot environment to combat the effects of excessive sweating.
- Dress Appropriately in Protective work gear: workers should wear clothing for their workplace conditions. The right gear can help protect workers’ skin from harmful UV rays and prevent excessive sweating.
- Take frequent breaks to rest and cool down.
- Wear proper protective gear and clothing.
- Schedule tasks and work shifts based on the heat index to reduce exposure.
- Be aware of signs of heat-related illness in co-workers and help them stay cool.
- Have a plan in place for dealing with workplace heat-related illness. Also, establish where employees should go for help and ensure they know how to get there. The best way to protect your employees from heat-related illnesses is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Before you install any new equipment, make sure that it will be able to keep your employees safe while they are working.
Heat-related illnesses are significant safety and occupational health issues in the United States. They are one of the leading causes of death in the United States and present major risks to individuals and their co-workers. You can prevent various types of heat-related illnesses by staying hydrated, wearing protective gear, and avoiding overexertion. In addition, workers can use these tips to help prevent heat-related illness: stay hydrated, take frequent breaks, wear proper protective gear, schedule tasks, and work shifts based on the heat index. This will help prevent overexposure to dangerous heat levels and ensure that employees can maintain a safe temperature while at work. Want to improve your employees’ working conditions? Check out Premier Industries, Inc.; we offer the best evaporation coolers for your healthy working environment.
Categorised in: Heat-Related Illness
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