Temperatures are continuing to heat up across the country, especially in the western and southern regions of the U.S. Whether working outdoors, in hot indoor environments or on an emergency response cleanup crew, it’s important to be cognizant of the dangers of extreme heat. To help protect workers this summer, Scott Skelton, CIH, CTEH’s senior industrial hygienist, is sharing some of his extreme heat expertise. Check out our Q & A below:

Who is most at risk for heat-related illnesses?

Employees most at-risk for heat-related illnesses (i.e., stress, stroke, exhaustion, cramps, fainting, rashes, fatigue) are those who work in direct sunlight; high temperatures or humidity; direct physical contact with hot objects; or near radiant heat sources (i.e., boilers, water heaters). Workers may also be affected if they are required to wear bulky or non-breathable personal protective equipment or perform vigorous physical activities.

What heat prevention work practices should employers put in place?

Employers should implement a heat stress prevention plan prior to engaging in work activity in hot environments. An effective plan should include long-term corrective measures such as cooling systems, rehab facilities or localized cooling ventilation for routine job tasks in work settings that do not regularly change. It should also include short-term preventative measures to address heat stress risk from random or unplanned work tasks where control measures or facility cooling provisions are unavailable. These controls include accessible and abundant quantities of cool, potable water; shade; medical monitoring; and a work/rest regimen to prevent overheating. Secondly, it’s important for workers to acclimate to the heat. This will help their bodies sweat more efficiently and maintain a normal body temperature. To help achieve this, businesses should gradually increase employees’ workloads. Employers may also want to reduce workloads during the hottest times of the day and regularly rotate job functions among workers. In case of heat-related emergencies, businesses should ensure medical services are readily available. At CTEH, we strongly recommend employers educate workers about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and, if possible, provide trainings on how to prevent them.

What engineering controls can employers implement to prevent illnesses?

As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said, “the best way to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler.” This can be accomplished by installing air conditioning, general ventilation, cooling fans or exhaust ventilation in areas of high heat production or humidity. Businesses may also want to consider insulating hot surfaces, removing steam leaks and making surface modifications (i.e., surrounding workers with cooler surfaces) to reduce sources of radiant heat. In certain cases, the use of power assists or tools can also help lessen the physical demands placed on workers.