Excessive heat or even just high heat that one has been exposed to for a long period can lead to some serious health effects. So can extreme cold. Although the very young, the elderly, and those prone to health problems will most commonly be affected by working in extreme temperatures, just because someone is in good physical condition and fit does not make that person immune to the effects of heat.
The most common effect of working in a high-temperature area is dehydration. The human body is made up of a large percentage of water, and in high heat it’s possible to lose as much as half a gallon in 10 minutes. Additionally, if someone begins to get dehydrated that can leave an individual vulnerable to conditions that would not have been an issue previously. Things like heat cramps, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion all become very real possibilities. If one is being exposed to the sun on top of the heat then it is also likely that person would suffer from sunburn as well.
Severe Effects of Heat
It is possible that in truly extreme temperatures, such as those hitting the 119-degree threshold, an individual may experience truly horrible physical reactions. It is possible at this level of temperature, with no protection and no air movement, that individual may have seizures and experience internal organ failure because of the sheer intensity of the heat involved. This is why it is important to always remain aware of what the temperature is, what protections need to be worn, and what precautions need to be taken in order to be sure that those working in the heat do not suffer adverse effects.
Severe Effects of Cold
Cold, like heat, can be deadly. While the human body regulates itself well, long-term exposure to cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia, the loss of extremities due to frostbite, and damage to exposed skin (or even skin that isn’t properly insulated). Whether working outside in the winter or artificial cold like a freezer, proper insulation and equipment are paramount to maintaining safety.
Unique, Urban Effects
Urban areas are more likely to heat up and to stay hot for longer periods of time than many rural areas. Additionally, the air quality in urban areas is adversely affected by heat, with trapped pollutants adding even more risks and dangers to those who have to work in high temperatures. For this reason, it’s important for those who are working in urban areas to be extra cautious, since even working at night will not always alleviate the heat (since it remains trapped in asphalt and blacktop for longer and is then released throughout the night time hours).
There are several, common sense safety precautions that can be used to help alleviate the effects of extreme heat. The first, and most common, is to stay hydrated. This will help the body stay cool without causing adverse effects on organs, and it will allow people to work longer with fewer negative side effects.
In addition to hydration, it’s also important to take regular breaks to allow the body to recuperate from the efforts it is gone through. While there are not currently OSHA standards for break times by heat, there is a government-created heat index that lists the temperatures one works in and how much of a danger different levels are. Generally speaking, the higher the level of danger, the more breaks that need to be taken to maintain worker safety.
It is also important to take any and all extra precautions to help make working safer. This might mean wearing sunscreen and tinted eye protection, or it might mean setting up fans so there’s a constant air flow. Eliminating extra humidity by closing steam vents or leaks is also advisable for managing heat. Extreme cold will require heaters to be set up, and workers to make sure they limit their exposure, while wearing properly insulated clothing and equipment.
Lastly, all workers should be familiar with the signs of exposure to extreme temperatures. Knowing the signs means they can act sooner rather than later.
Robert Kent has been an EMT for Florida Hospital for over a decade, and had to respond to a lot of calls from construction sites where workers just failed to keep themselves hydrated. He has recently started recommending eCompliance Management Solutions Incorporated to businesses having trouble with managing their health and safety programs – hopefully cutting down on the numer of calls he gets from construction sites.