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As temperatures climb, OSHA warns workers about heat-related injuries

Know the signs of heat-related illness so you can protect yourself on the job.

As summer heats up and temperatures climb into the 90s, few people feel the discomfort more than those who work outdoors. But high temperatures can cause more than discomfort. In 2014, 18 workers in the United States died and thousands were injured from prolonged exposure to heat.

OSHA recently issued guidance for outdoor employees and their employers to stay safe in the summer heat. We'll cover your employer's responsibilities in an upcoming post, and below we've shared symptoms of heat-related illnesses and tips to stay safe while working outside.

Learn the symptoms and seek help if you need it.

Heat exhaustion is often caused by heavy sweating and dehydration. Symptoms include dizziness, exhaustion, heavy sweating, elevated heart rate, cramps, weakness and nausea or vomiting.

Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature. This is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, hot or dry skin, confusion, fainting and convulsions.

If you see a coworker experiencing these symptoms, consider offering to notify a supervisor or call an ambulance. Do not leave someone alone if they are suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

How can you stay safe on the job?

Heat-related injuries can be very serious but, fortunately, they are preventable. To protect yourself and minimize your risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke: 

  1. Drink water several times every hour, even if you do not feel thirsty. By the time you feel thirst, your body is already dehydrated.
  2. Take breaks to rest and cool down when you need to. Resting to avoid exhaustion will make you more productive in the long run.
  3. Wear light-colored clothing and a hat to shield you from the sun.
  4. If you are coming back from a vacation or just beginning to work in the sun, your tolerance for heat may be lower. Take it easy and let your body adjust.
  5. When possible, stay out of direct sunlight, which can greatly increase the effects of heat.
  6. Watch your coworkers for symptoms, too.

In our next post, we'll talk about employers' responsibilities to protect workers when the mercury rises to dangerous levels. Knowing what you are entitled to under the law can help you hold your employer accountable and keep your workplace safe.

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