The current heat wave engulfing the U.S presents big problems for all our employees. Particularly at risk are those who work in high air temperatures and/or high humidity, near radiant heat sources, and/or engage in strenuous physical activities. In other words, conditions typically found on the turbine deck.
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. We do this mainly through circulating blood to the skin and through sweating. Cooling the body becomes more difficult when the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature. Blood circulated to the skin cannot lose its heat and sweating becomes the main way the body cools off. But sweating is ineffective in high humidity because the sweat can’t evaporate. In extremely low humidity, sweat may instantly evaporate from the skin, disguising the need to replace that vital water.
If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, the core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. Loss of salts (electrolytes) can impair muscle and brain function. Injury can also result from sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, loss of concentration, and burns from hot surfaces or steam.
Excessive heat can cause a range of illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Initially, the person begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task. He may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often dizziness or even fainting. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention.
The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler by staying in the shade and employing fans and adequate ventilation, or even air conditioning. If it is still hot, employ safe work practices such as enforced work/rest cycles, water breaks, and providing an opportunity for workers to build up a level of tolerance to working in the heat. Be sure to include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans. Remember to refrain from alcohol intake the night prior and coffee during the shift. Alcohol, coffee and some prescription medications are diuretics which increase the rate of fluid loss. If the temperature is soaring and you are not urinating, you are not getting enough fluids.
It’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others. Plan for an emergency and know what to do – acting quickly can save lives!