Preventing Dehydration and Heatstroke During Hot-Weather Conditions
For many workers, hot, humid conditions are simply a fact of life. Many construction, landscaping, utility, agriculture, and other employees spend lots of time outside in hot, sunny, uncomfortable weather. People who work at many plants and manufacturers also have to deal with hot conditions because of all the heavy equipment producing heat nearby. Some workers in plants and some professionals like welders also have to wear protective clothing. That makes staying cool even more difficult.
Heat stress isn’t just inconvenient or uncomfortable. It’s a potential safety and health hazard for millions of people. Thousands of individuals suffer from heat-related illnesses every year. Exhausted, uncomfortable workers can’t be as productive as those who are cool and comfortable.
How to Prevent Dehydration and Other Heat Hazards
Preventing dehydration and heatstroke during hot weather will help you increase your business’s productivity and maximize your profits. Keep reading for more information about preventing heat stress and keeping your workers comfortable in hot weather.
- Look for Early Signs of Heat Illness
- Check the Heat Index
- Schedule Heavy Work During Certain Times
- Encourage Crew Members to Wear Breathable Clothing
- Provide Plenty of Water
- Offer Ways to Cool Down
- Use a Hydration Calculator
- Know the Signs of Dehydration
- Learn to Recognize Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
- Keep Employees Healthy
When people work in a hot environment, their bodies have work harder to get rid of excess heat and maintain a stable internal temperature. Some heat is lost through the blood that flows near the skin. When outside temperatures rise, cooling down is more difficult and sweat is the main cooling method. However, sweating doesn’t cool your body unless evaporation removes the moisture from the skin. Evaporation is difficult when the humidity is high, or you’re wearing heavy protective clothing. Sweating can also cause dehydration and disturb normal heart functions.
The first sign of a problem is usually a heat rash from sweating. It looks like clusters of small blisters or allergic reactions in sweaty areas like the underarms or the chest. Fortunately, you can treat it easily by taking a break in a cooler area and changing out of sweaty clothes. If you notice sudden cramps in your legs or stomach, rest and drink some water or sports
drinks. Your body could be low on electrolytes from sweating. Stretching your muscles will also help.
The heat index is a measure of the temperature the outside air feels like. This is also called the apparent temperature. When the humidity is high, the heat index is higher as well, even if the temperature stays the same. The heat index is based on temperatures in the shade and in windy weather, and it assumes that people are resting. Conditions often feel much warmer than the heat index when you’re working in the hot sun. The higher the heat index, the greater the risk that your crew members will experience heat-related illnesses. Construction companies and other businesses should check the local weather for the heat index. On hot days, make sure your employees take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids. Use portable fans to help workers stay cool, and make sure everyone can rest in an air-conditioned area.
Construction companies and other businesses should try to schedule the heaviest, most physically demanding work in the coolest part of the day. This time frame is typically between 6 and 10 a.m. Temperatures are usually warmest between 3 and 6 p.m., so you should start your day as early as possible. However, many cities have ordinances that keep you from starting construction or any other noisy activity too early. Check with your town to find out how early you can start work. Start times on weekends and public holidays are usually an hour or two later.
Tell people to eat a late lunch or take a break for a few hours when it’s warmest outside. You can also use this time for office work or indoor construction, like repainting or replacing floors. Use lights to make working after sunset comfortable and convenient. You can also create shade with portable awnings or umbrellas.
Construction companies should encourage their crew members to wear light-colored, comfortable, breathable clothing. This type of clothing lets sweat evaporate more quickly for better, faster cooling. If your clothing is sweaty, you should replace it with dry clothing as soon as possible. You can also find UV or bug resistant clothing, wear a hat to protect your head and neck, and use sunblock on any exposed skin. Many businesses even give cooling vests with pockets for cold packs to their employees.
Replacing the body fluids that are lost due to sweat and normal activities is the single most important way to control heat stress. Providing water or sports drinks can keep workers productive and comfortable. Free drinks are also a nice perk. If there’s a vending machine near the job site, make sure it has healthy snacks and drinks, not soft drinks and candy bars. You can also provide water bottles with water filters to encourage your employees to drink more water.
The caffeine in sodas and coffee is a diuretic. It causes people to lose fluids faster through sweating and urinating more often instead of replacing their lost liquids. You should also avoid other diuretics like alcohol. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration both recommend fluid replacement. Even mild thirst can decrease productivity and hand/eye coordination. When people are thirsty, they’re already dehydrated. Workers should drink a cup of water or an electrolyte drink every 15 to 20 minutes. Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. When people sweat, they lose electrolytes as well as water.
Providing a place to cool down during lunch and breaks will give hot, tired people a chance to get their energy back. That way, your workers can get more done and help you increase your business’s profits. You can rent a portable storage container and place a table, some chairs, and an air conditioning unit in it for an inexpensive break room. It’s easy to move a portable rental to any job site, and you can choose a unit that’s between 10 and 40 feet long. Most containers are 8 feet wide, so there’s plenty of space for storage or a cool, comfortable break room.
Make sure that people aren’t removing safety equipment like hard hats or fall protection harnesses to stay cooler. You can also provide a tent for shade. Simple amenities like damp towels can help people cool down as well. Help people get used to the heat by increasing the time they spend outside gradually. Start by telling employees to work outside for one or two hours per day. Then, increase the time people spend outside by an hour every day until your workers spend most of their time outdoors. Also, don’t let people go to and from hot spaces and air-conditioned rooms often. People are very adaptable, and they can get used to a variety of conditions that seem very uncomfortable to most others.
Different people need different amounts of fluids and electrolytes. Some of your crew members might not know how much water they need. They’ll always need more when they’re working hard in hot weather. You can use a convenient online daily hydration calculator to find out how many fluids you need in different situations. These calculations can consider your height, weight, age, medical conditions, activity levels, the weather forecast for your job site, and more.
The right amount of water is essential for creating new cells, lowering joint pain and reducing the risk of damage, expelling toxins from your body, and keeping your brain and nervous system working normally. The human body is mostly water, and it’s essential for survival. People can burn fat for energy instead of eating food for several weeks, but they can only live for a few days without water.
When crew members are dehydrated, you should know how to help. Construction companies can train employees to spot illnesses and improve workplace safety. You and your employees should be aware of possible dehydration symptoms, including headaches, dry skin, muscle cramps, thirst, confusion, and irritability. When people notice these initial symptoms, they’re sometimes already unable to keep working.
When people are dehydrated, they have darker, more concentrated urine. This is usually the first sign. They also can’t regulate their internal body temperature. Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death. Frequent, less severe dehydration can also cause urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and even kidney failure.
Heat exhaustion is less severe than heatstroke, but it looks similar. It can include clammy skin with goosebumps, nausea, low blood pressure, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, or a rapid, weak pulse. If a worker displays any of these symptoms, encourage him or her to rest in a cool place, drink water or sports drinks, and suck on some ice cubes. If the person’s condition doesn’t improve quickly, seek immediate medical attention.
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a dangerous condition that happens when your core body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The normal body temperature for a healthy person is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The signs of heat stroke include fatigue, weakness, collapse, unconsciousness, and other symptoms. Some workers could become aggressive or suffer from seizures. They could also have skin that feels hot without being sweaty. Without immediate treatment, a person with heat stroke could have permanent brain damage as well as damage to their other organs. Someone with heat stroke could even fall into a coma and eventually die.
People who are overweight or have heart or blood pressure problems are more vulnerable to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Infants, older people, people with diabetes, and smokers are also more susceptible to heat problems. Some medications could also interfere with sweating and other normal bodily functions. Other medicines can also make people more sensitive to light or susceptible to sunburn. Since many workers are reluctant to admit that they need to rest or drink some water, supervisors should watch crew members closely for symptoms.
Even in winter, people can experience symptoms from working in the sun with heavy clothes. Make regular breaks mandatory, remind your employees to drink lots of water, and encourage them to dress in layers so they can remove clothing that feels too warm. The bathrooms should be clean and comfortable. Otherwise, people may avoid drinking to reduce their number of trips to the restroom.
Preventing dehydration and heat stroke during hot weather takes some extra effort from supervisors and crew members, but it’s much easier than dealing with an employee who can’t do their best work or even has to go to the hospital for heat stroke. Without a safe work environment, your business won’t be able to keep skilled workers, and your productivity will drop.
Provide plenty of shade, cold drinks, and portable fans so that people can keep working when the temperature and humidity are high. Many tool belts can hold water bottles. That way, workers won’t have to walk all the way to the break room for some extra fluids. You can also reduce the risk of heat problems by encouraging your employees to eat healthy foods, get plenty of regular exercises, and get regular checkups from a doctor.
Whenever you can, rent equipment and machinery instead of asking crew members to lift heavy objects or perform other strenuous, potentially dangerous tasks in hot weather. Renting equipment to help with heavy work and provide cool spaces for employees to take breaks is easier and less expensive than buying the things your company needs or letting your workers deal with the heat on their own. You won’t have to spend the money to store equipment when you’re not using it.