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Beating The Heat II

Providing extra education on how to deal with the special problems of hot weather construction work can save injury and illness. Be sure your workers, at every level of experience, are well versed in how to protect themselves when the temperatures soar. Here are some points to consider, courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Rather than be exposed to heat for extended periods of time during the course of a job, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work-rest cycles. Work-rest cycles give the body an opportunity to get rid of excess heat, slow down the production of internal body heat, and provide greater blood flow to the skin.

Workers employed outdoors are especially subject to weather changes. A hot spell or a rise in humidity can create overly stressful conditions. The following practices can help to reduce heat stress:

  • Postponement of nonessential tasks,
  • Permit only those workers acclimatized to heat to perform the more strenuous tasks, or
  • Provide additional workers to perform the tasks — keeping in mind that all workers should have the physical capacity to perform the task and that they should be accustomed to the heat.

In the course of a day's work in the heat, a worker may produce as much as 2 to 3 gallons of sweat. Because so many heat disorders involve excessive dehydration of the body, it is essential that water intake during the workday be about equal to the amount of sweat produced. Most workers exposed to hot conditions drink less fluid than needed because of an insufficient thirst drive. A worker, therefore, should not depend on thirst to signal when and how much to drink. Instead, the worker should drink 5 to 7 ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes to replenish the necessary fluids in the body.

There is no optimum temperature of drinking water, but most people tend not to drink warm or very cold fluids as readily as they will cool ones. Whatever the temperature of the water, it must be palatable and readily available to the worker. Individual drinking cups should be provided — never use a common drinking cup.

Heat acclimatized workers lose much less salt in their sweat than do workers who are not adjusted to the heat. The average American diet contains sufficient salt for acclimatized workers even when sweat production is high. If, for some reason, salt replacement is required, the best way to compensate for the loss is to add a little extra salt to the food. Salt tablets should not be used.

Clothing inhibits the transfer of heat between the body and the surrounding environment. Therefore, in hot jobs where the air temperature is lower than skin temperature, wearing clothing reduces the body's ability to lose heat into the air. When air temperature is higher than skin temperature, clothing helps to prevent the transfer of heat from the air to the body. However, this advantage may be nullified if the clothes interfere with the evaporation of sweat.

In dry climates, adequate evaporation of sweat is seldom a problem. In a dry work environment with very high air temperatures, protective clothing could be an advantage to the worker. The proper type of clothing depends on the specific circumstance.

During unusually hot weather conditions lasting longer than 2 days, the number of heat illnesses usually increases. This is due to several factors, such as progressive body fluid deficit, loss of appetite (and possible salt deficit), the buildup of heat in living and work areas, and a breakdown of air-conditioning equipment. Therefore, it is advisable to make a special effort to adhere rigorously to the above preventive measures during these extended hot spells and to avoid any unnecessary or unusual stressful activity. Sufficient sleep and good nutrition are important for maintaining a high level of heat tolerance. Workers who may be at a greater risk of heat illnesses are the obese, the chronically ill, and older individuals.

When feasible, the most stressful tasks should be performed during the cooler parts of the day (early morning or at night). Double shifts and overtime should be avoided whenever possible. Rest periods should be extended to alleviate the increase in the body heat load.

The consumption of alcoholic beverages during prolonged periods of heat can cause additional dehydration. Persons taking certain medications (e.g., medications for blood pressure control, diuretics, or water pills) should consult their physicians in order to determine if any side effects could occur during excessive heat exposure. Daily fluid intake must be sufficient to prevent significant weight loss during the workday and over the workweek.

For additional information on hot weather work, contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226 and ask for DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 86-112.



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