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Heat safety could save a life, your business

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Summer has its own set of unique challenges for employers, like balancing employees’ vacation requests and enforcing the dress code despite the rising temperatures. But this time of year also presents a serious safety concern. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, thousands of workers across the country every year suffer from serious heat-related illnesses, which have killed – on average – more than 30 workers annually since 2003.

These injuries and deaths represent more than just the pain employees and their families suffer. They show that employers, just like you, face the cost of workers’ compensation, a drop in morale, bad publicity and lost productivity. In honor of National Safety Month, make sure you know how to keep your employees safe from the summertime heat. Taking a few simple steps to educate yourself and your workforce can protect your business, and possibly save someone’s life in the future.

• Know who’s at risk. The worker who’s most at risk for heat-related injury is someone who works outside, but indoor workers can succumb to the heat as well. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration specifies that any employee who is working in hot or humid conditions, doing heavy or strenuous work, or wearing protective clothing or gear is at risk. Employees who are new to working in hot conditions are especially susceptible to the heat, and should be allowed four to five days to acclimate.

• Recognize the signs: Ensuring your supervisors and employees know the symptoms of heat stress will help heat victims receive treatment quickly, before their condition becomes more serious. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are five types of heat stress: heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (a fainting episode or dizziness), heat cramps (painful muscle cramps resulting from heavy sweating during strenuous activity) and heat rash (skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot weather).

The most serious of these is heat stroke because once the human body reaches this point it can no longer control its temperature. Heat stroke can result in permanent disability or death. The early signs can range from skin rash and muscle spasms, to a headache and dizziness. However, the most critical symptoms to watch for are dry skin, hallucinations, chills, slurred speech, rapid breathing and a weak pulse.

• Take preventative steps: As an employer, it’s vital that you train employees to take preventative measures to protect themselves. “Water, rest and shade are three words that can make the difference between life and death,” says Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “If employers take reasonable precautions, and look out for their workers, we can beat the heat.”

OSHA recommends that employees wear light-colored cotton clothing, apply sunscreen, wear a hat and watch out for their co-workers. If symptoms of heat illness appear, they should report them right away to prevent serious complications.

• Take symptoms seriously. When signs of heat stress are observed seek immediate attention for heat stroke, call 911; move the person to a cool shaded area; stop activity and have them sit or lie down; cool the person by soaking clothes with water, spraying, sponging or showering their body with water, and fanning their body; have them slowly drink plenty of water or other cool nonalcoholic beverages; apply talcum powder to dry the skin. If other symptoms do not subside within an hour, seek medical attention.

During the summer heat waves, the lives of your employees and your business’ success are on the line. Being informed and empowering your employees with knowledge to beat the heat are the primary ways to keep everyone safe from the high temperatures.

• Terri Greeno owns Express Employment Professionals in Crystal Lake.

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