One huge worker safety concern remains even though spring’s hectic 12-hour workdays give way to the arrival of summer’s saner work schedules. That concern is exhaustion — more precisely, heat exhaustion.
Summer’s dog days, the hot and humid period between early July and September, can be incredibly challenging for anyone that works long hours in the sun outdoors. This is the time of the year when heat exhaustion can sneak up on you. When it does, the consequences can be dire. Heat exhaustion can cause illness, heat stroke and, if severe enough, even death.
You have an obligation to take steps to prevent the likelihood of heat exhaustion. If you’re an employee, doing so just makes sense.
It is both a moral and regulatory obligation as an employer to provide specific employee training on how to identify and prevent heat-related illnesses.
As an employer, it also means providing employees with water, sunscreen and suitable work clothes and hats. (Have you looked into equipping your employees on summer’s hottest days with cooling vests with pockets for cold packs?) And, depending upon unusually difficult conditions, encouraging them to take breaks to cool off or scheduling tasks for earlier or later in the day to avoid the midday sun.
Reliable sources say that even for moderate activity in moderate conditions, outdoor workers must remain hydrated. Sweating causes the body to lose water and electrolytes. Drinking enough water and having enough electrolytes is necessary for our bodies to function properly. Drinks, including sports drinks, containing lots of sugar are a bad idea in the heat.
Admittedly, heat exhaustion in landscape workers resulting in serious illness is relatively uncommon, and resulting in death is rarer yet — at least, according to online sources.
Even so, keep an eye out for signs of exhaustion either with yourself, your co-workers or your employees.
New hires not acclimatized to working in the heat are especially at risk. Workers become acclimatized to heat, improving their ability to sweat and stabilizing their circulation, when they gradually work for longer periods in a hot environment, says the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
But even if you or your employees have soldiered through the long weeks of spring, you are not immune to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. The body and mind can only take so much of what nature can throw at it.
Beyond that, when you’re exhausted you’re not as productive as you should be. You’re also more prone to deliver substandard service or make serious mistakes, perhaps even mistakes that put yourself, your colleagues or your employees at risk.
Muscle cramping is often the first sign of heat-related illness, followed by heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; and, in some cases, fainting.
If you suspect the onset of heat exhaustion, move yourself (your workmate or your employee) to a cooler location; lie down and loosen your clothing; apply cool, wet cloths to your body as possible; and sip water. If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
While you’re aware (or should be aware) of the risks to your safety and to the safety of your co-workers and/or employees of unsafe driving, equipment operation and improper chemical use, don’t overlook the danger of prolonged exposure to the sun and to midsummer’s heat and humidity. It’s real and, fortunately, avoidable.