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The heat is on: Avoiding heat-related work injuries

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With an average of over 650 deaths annually and tens of thousands of heat-related injuries nationwide, working in the heat of summer isn't something to take lightly. Let's take a look at some common heat-related injuries that can happen on the job, including how to recognize, treat and prevent them.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is more an annoyance than anything else, but it can make you irritable and sore, keeping you from working your best. Try to keep your skin dry by keeping a towel close to hand while working, wearing wicking clothing such as linen or cotton and using medicated powders to keep the rash from getting worse.

Dehydration

Dehydration is a gateway problem, as it leads to most of the other injuries listed, the last of which can be fatal. Keep hydrated with lots of water and electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade or Powerade. If you're going through more than a quart an hour of an electrolyte solution, dilute it by half with water to prevent stomach irritation. By the time you feel thirsty, you're already becoming dehydrated, so keep the fluids coming.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps can involve large muscles, such as in the legs and arms, or in the digestive system. If you have workers with heat cramps, make them rest in the shade with an electrolyte solution or clear juice for several hours to restore the minerals in their system. Just because the cramps go away doesn't mean they're ready for work, with further activity possibly leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Severe heat cramps may require a trip to an urgent care or emergency room to get electrolytes back into their system quickly, especially if the cramps last over an hour, if the worker is on a low-salt diet or has heart problems.

Heat Syncopewater_bottle

Heat syncope is essentially dizziness or fainting when changing position due to heat and dehydration. It's usually caused by dehydration and lack of acclimatization to high temperatures, so make sure you keep your crew well hydrated and working lightly the first few days of a heat wave. Treat it by having workers with symptoms rest in a cool area and rehydrate.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can lead very quickly to heat stroke and death, and must be taken very seriously. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, nausea, muscle cramps, fast and shallow breathing, slight fever and skin that can be flushed, pale, clammy or moist. Immediately move the worker to a cooler area, drape them with damp, thin sheets or towels or have them take a shower, bath or sponge bath in cool - not cold - water. Heat exhaustion can be the beginning of shock, so applying anything that creates too rapid a change can make the situation worse instead of better. Make sure they hydrate with water, clear juices or electrolyte solutions. If they can't keep liquids down, get them immediately to an urgent care or emergency room for IV treatment.

Heat Stroke

glass-of-water.jpgHeat stroke occurs when your body's temperature regulation system is out of options. They may still be sweating profusely or when a worker has lost too much fluids to sweating, they'll stop sweating and they'll develop a high fever of 104ºf or higher. If emergency action is not taken immediately, they could suffer permanent disability or die from organ failure. Other symptoms to watch for include hallucinations, chills, a throbbing headache, confusion or dizziness and slurred speech. Heat stroke can rapidly raise the body temperature above 106ºF within 10-15 minutes, so it's vital to immediately call 911, move the worker into the shade (preferably in a cool area) , then spray, sponge or soak the worker with cool water. If there's a breeze, a fan or another worker who can fan them, this will help with evaporative cooling to get their temperature down.

In addition to hydration, working outside of the heat of the day, staying shaded while working or providing evaporative cooling towels that are soaked and help keep workers cool are a great way to approach this problem. At Wallboard Supply Company, we have a variety of safety equipment available for your worker's needs to keep them safe, healthy and on the job. Contact us today with any questions.


Safety and Health Brochure CTA


Photo credit: j-imaging / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: stevendepolo / Foter / CC BY

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.