Heat a Factor in 12 Texas Worksite Deaths in 3 Years, Regulators Say

July 10, 2008

As temperatures go up during the summer dangers increase for all people working outdoors, Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (TDI-DWC) said in a reminder to employers to keep their employees safe. Dangers range from sun-damaged skin to fatal conditions, the DWC said.

From 2003 to 2006 in Texas, exposure to environmental heat was a factor in 12 work-related deaths and 1,060 nonfatal illnesses that required days away from work, according to the DWC.

Twenty-five percent of these fatalities and 30 percent of the nonfatal illnesses occurred in the construction and oil and gas occupations.

Extended exposure to a hot environment can tax the body beyond its ability to cool. The effects of heat can be magnified in the very young, elderly and those with medical conditions.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and heat stress such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and most dangerous, heat stroke, and taking precautions can help prevent their onset. Symptoms indicative of heat exhaustion, which is caused by the loss of large amounts of fluid and/or salt from sweating, include: clammy and moist skin; extreme weakness or fatigue; giddiness; nausea; headache; or fainting.

Warning signs of heat stroke vary, but could include: an extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally); red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating); rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; or unconsciousness. Prompt assessment of employees experiencing any of these symptoms, and the delivery of appropriate first aid or emergency medical care are advised.

The best defense against heat-related illnesses is prevention. The following tips can aid in protecting employees from extreme heat conditions:

–Drink 16 – 32 ounces of cool fluids each hour when working outdoors;
–Replace salt and minerals with electrolyte drinks;
–Do not rush; a slower pace reduces stress on the body;
–Avoid working in direct sunlight whenever possible, and take frequent breaks;
–Protect the face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat;
–Wear UV-absorbent sunglasses to protect the eyes;
–Perform most strenuous outdoor tasks during the morning;
–Wear loose-fitting, light weight, light-colored clothing;
–Use a buddy system and check on employees often; monitoring for heat-related symptoms increases the chances of avoiding illness;
–Avoid hot foods and heavy meals, since they add heat to the body; and
–Avoid caffeine and alcohol, due to their dehydrating properties.

TDI-DWC offers free publications about the prevention and treatment of these types of illnesses, including, Heat-Related Injuries and Illness Prevention, Heat Stress Safety Training Program, and Sun Safety, as well as a variety of free safety training video and DVD loans. These publications and the video loan catalog are available online at: http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/wc/safety/index.html.

Source: Texas Department of Insurance

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