Feeling stressed

April 2, 2018
When working under the hot sun, workers need to be aware of heat symptoms

About the author: Mahlstedt is the public relations manager for Reflexite Americas, New Britain, Conn.

We all know just how hazardous it can be for roadway workers. But Mother Nature can be unforgiving and potentially deadly--especially as we enter the dog days of summer. Preventing, recognizing and treating heat stress is more important than ever.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, heat stress was responsible for 24 worker deaths in the year 2001. Another 3,135 missed work due to heat-related injuries or illnesses on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes that many more cases go unrecognized or unreported. 

Of course, elevated temperatures present a risk, but many other factors affect and exacerbate heat stress:

Physical condition: Age, fitness, weight, medical conditions, medications and even diet are all factors that can affect one's ability to deal with higher temperatures. A worker who is out of shape, takes certain medications, is pregnant, eats a low or excessively high sodium diet or regularly drinks caffeinated or alcoholic beverages is at a higher risk. 

Acclimatization: Workers not accustomed to the heat are at a higher risk.

Humidity: The old adage that a dry heat is better than humidity is true. This is because the body cools itself when sweat evaporates from the skin. Humidity inhibits evaporation.

Shady action

Train all workers to recognize the symptoms of heat stress and to be vigilant in monitoring themselves and each other. Heat stress is progressive and aggressive. A mild case of dehydration will escalate rapidly to heat stroke if not treated. Ailments include:

Dehydration: This condition is characterized by feeling thirsty and weak. By the time one feels thirsty, dehydration already is a problem and at least 2% of fluids have been lost. Treat this problem by moving the worker to a cooler, shaded area and administer cool (not cold) fluids.

Cramps: Muscle cramps can affect workers even after leaving the work site. Administer fluids containing electrolytes and lessen the workload.

Heat exhaustion: Feeling tired, thirsty, nauseous, dizzy, giddy or having a headache are all symptoms of heat exhaustion. In this stage of heat stress the victim's skin will be damp and ruddy or flushed. Fainting is a danger at this stage. Move the victim to a cool, shaded area and administer fluids. The worker should not return to work prior to seeking professional medical help.

Heat stroke: This most deadly stage of heat stress is characterized by hot, dry skin, high body temperature, confusion, irrational behavior, loss of consciousness or convulsions. Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate temperature and is a medical emergency and can be deadly if professional emergency medical help is not administered quickly. While waiting for emergency medical services, bring the worker to a shady area and remove all outer clothing. Wet and fan the skin to promote evaporative cooling and administer fluids if the victim is conscious and able to ingest them.

An ounce of prevention

Industry manufacturers continually look for ways to help prevent heat stress and keep workers comfortable and productive while meeting other safety needs.

CamelBak developed the Hi-Viz, a high-visibility hands-free hydration system that enables workers to carry their fluids right on them.

Coppus manufactures portable ventilators that are especially helpful in high humidity to help boost the body's natural ability to cool itself. In addition, MiraCool products offer innovative personal cooling solutions that don't inhibit movement or obstruct high-visibility clothing.

The introduction of ANSI 107-1999 provided the first guidelines for the use of high-visibility garments. Along with improving the visibility of those who work near moving vehicles came increased amounts of background fluorescent materials and increased amounts of retroreflective trims. 

To balance these increases with the need for comfort in the heat, Reflexite Americas developed a breathable ANSI-compliant trim. The Brilliance Series Comfort trim features perforations and is proven to be breathable, enabling sweat to evaporate.

About the Author

Cynthia Mahlstedt

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