Feeling stressed

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

Safety Article July 18, 2003
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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: 
Mahlstedt is the public relations manager for Reflexite Americas, New Britain, Conn.
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