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Heat illnesses in the workplace and the dangers to workers

Heat-related illnesses are a very real and serious thing. They can be life-threatening or deadly in worst-case scenarios. The real tragedy is that in most cases, these injuries and deaths can be completely avoided simply by providing workers with a way to cool down, water to prevent dehydration, and frequent breaks.

Where can heat strike? It's not just during the summer months. In fact, workers with inadequate cooling capacities can quickly become too hot and cause workers to fall ill from heat exhaustion. If workers are outside in a hot environment, in the sun or wearing personal protective clothing or other heavy equipment outside, they can be at an increased risk of heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

Workplaces should have a formal program to educate workers on working safely and on how to properly acclimatize to hot work areas. They need to be aware of heat-related dangers and of what to do if heat-related injuries take place in the workplace.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem that can take place. When the body can no longer adjust to compensate for the rising heat by sweating, it can't keep up. The skin becomes hot and red, and it will be very dry. That's a sign that medical attention is needed immediately. The patient's pupils may constrict and his body temperature will be high.

Other possible heat-related injuries include heat exhaustion, which may result in a headache, fatigue or other signs of illness. They still sweat, but their bodies can't keep up with the heat. Usually, they can recover by rehydrating and resting in a cool area.

Heat cramps, heat syncope, heat rash and other illnesses can also arise; if they take place on the job and you fall ill, you may have a workers' compensation case.

Source: United Steelworkers, "USW Hazard Alert," accessed July 29, 2016

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