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For Release: Aug. 8, 2011 – Larry Weatherford, Office of Communications – 405/271-5601

Protect Workers from Heat Stress

Most employers agree that a business is only as good as its employees.  Protecting workers during Oklahoma’s record heat wave from occupational illness and injury involves common sense and an awareness of a few simple steps to prevent heat stress.

“It’s common sense to take steps to protect workers who may be affected by the heat,” said Scott Sproat, chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Service at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.  “Heat stress can kill. It can also result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rashes. In addition, the heat can lead to related injuries due to sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.”

Anyone is at risk in Oklahoma’s extreme heat, but at particular risk are outdoor workers such as farmers, roofers, and construction workers as well as workers in hot environments including firefighters, bakery workers, factory workers, and others. Workers at highest risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

Sproat encouraged employers, supervisors and coworkers to take the following steps to protect workers from heat stress:

  • If not time bound, schedule maintenance and repair jobs in hot areas for cooler months.
  • Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day.
  • Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for physically demanding jobs.
  • Make sure workers have plenty of cool water while on the job. Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar.
  • Provide ample time for rest periods and water breaks in cool areas.
  • Monitor all workers for heat stress. If a worker becomes ill with symptoms of heat stress, call 9-1-1. Immediately move the victim to the shade and try to cool the victim down by loosening clothing, spraying or wiping the skin with cool water and fan the victim using whatever materials you can find, such as a piece of cardboard.
  • Provide employees with heat stress training that includes information about:
  1. Worker risk
  2. Prevention
  3. Symptoms
  4. Importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms
  5. Treatment
  6. Personal protective equipment

For more information on heat safety, visit www.health.ok.gov.

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