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Prevent Heat Illness for Workers in Rising Temperatures

Learn the signs of heat exhaustion; take precaution

Working in hot weather requiresprecautionLandscaping, construction, and agriculture are all labor-intensive activities that can raise the body temperature of workers in hot weather. This could lead to heat illness or even death, if precautions are not taken.

“Workers in Oregon aren’t acclimated to working in this type of heat,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “Employers should provide drinking water, offer a shaded place for workers to take breaks, and watch for signs of trouble.”

Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, encourages employers and workers to learn the signs of heat illness and focus on prevention. Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and even seizures or death.

From 2010 through 2014, 28 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses (at least three days away from work).

“Heat illness can be deadly, but it’s preventable,” Wolf-McCormick said.

To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:

  • Working in hot weather requiresprecautionMove them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
  • Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
  • Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
  • Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
  • If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.

Certain medications, wearing personal protective equipment while on the job, and a past case of heat stress create a higher risk for heat illness.

Heat stroke is a more severe condition than heat exhaustion and can result in death. Immediately call for emergency help if you think the person is suffering from heat stroke.

Here are some tips for preventing a heat-related illness:

  • Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
  • Use the buddy system (work in pairs) to monitor the heat.
  • Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
  • Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing (such as cotton).
  • Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas – allow your body to cool down.
  • Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).

Employers can calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA heat stress app for mobile phones. The tool is available here. A number of other tools are available here.

Oregon OSHA also has a pocket-sized booklet available, in both English and Spanish, with tips for working in the heat English version).

About Oregon OSHA

Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, enforces the state’s workplace safety and health rules and works to improve workplace safety and health for all Oregon workers. For more information, go to www.orosha.org.

The Department of Consumer and Business Services is Oregon’s largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. For more information, go to www.dcbs.oregon.gov. Follow DCBS on Twitter. Receive consumer help and information on insurance, mortgages, investments, workplace safety, and more.

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