Texas Work Comp Division: Summer Heat Takes Toll on Employees

May 25, 2010

Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (TDI-DWC) urges Texas employers to help prevent heat-related injuries and illnesses. During the warm months many dangers exist for all people working outdoors, ranging from sun-damaged skin to fatal illnesses.

From 2003 thru 2008, heat-related illnesses resulted in 20 work-related fatalities in Texas, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).

Texas employers and employees should be aware that 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 by 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 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°, 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. By following heat-related safety tips, employers can aid in protecting employees from extreme heat conditions.

  • Ensure that employees have been trained in heat-related illnesses (document training).
  • Monitor weather forecasts to determine when a “Heat Advisory” or “Heat Alert” is in effect.
  • Drink 16 – 32 ounces of cool fluids each hour when working outdoors.
  • Replace salt and minerals with electrolyte drinks.
  • Do not rush; a slower but steady 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, if possible.
  • 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; avoid caffeine and alcohol, due to their dehydrating properties.
  • Ensure provisions are in place for prompt medical attention.

TDI-DWC has resources to assist employers in training employees about how to prevent heat-related injuries and illnesses. The agency offers free safety publications, including Heat-Related Injuries and Illness Prevention, Heat Stress Safety Training Program, and Sun Safety, as well as a variety of free safety training audiovisuals available for loan.

Source: TDI-DWC

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