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January 15, 2021 05:00am
By Aislinn Antrim, Associate Editor
Employers need to be cautious with employees who work outside during high temperatures.
The importance of staying safe in the heat increases with the temperature in the summer. Heat stress is an environmental hazard that can lead to many heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke and death, especially among outdoor workers.
CDC officials recently evaluated the heat stress exposure limits recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They did this by reviewing 25 cases of heat-related illnesses and deaths that were investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2011 to 2016, according toa statement released by the CDC.
The OSHA Investigations centered around personal risk factors, wet bulb global temperature (WBGT), workload, and acclimation to high temperatures in the 25 cases. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac disease, and treatment with certain medication, and use of illegal drugs were all considered personal risk factors. Workload was measured as light, moderate, heavy, or very heavy, and patients were considered unacclimated to high temperatures if they had not been working for more than 2 weeks or were returning from an absence longer than 1 week.
Of the 25 cases, 14 people died of heat caused by outdoor work, while the remaining 11 workers suffered heat-related illnesses from working outside. The heat stress exposure limits were surpassed in all 14 cases resulting in death, and 8 of those resulting in illness, according to the CDC report.
In 12 of the reports, workers were more susceptible due to personal risk factors. Out of the 14 deaths, workload was considered moderate, heavy, or very heavy, while the remaining death was in an unacclimated worker. There were 4 incidents related to the inability of workers clothing to dissipate heat, according to the statement.
The CDC urges employers to implement preventive measures for heat-related illnesses and deaths. Health care providers can also play an important role in counseling patients about these preventive measures.
CDC officials advise that both supervisors and workers have adequate training on recognizing symptoms and first aid treatment; have established procedures to reduce heat stress are implemented; and that workers receive frequent medical observation; and, finally that fluids and shaded areas are provided on site.