As summer takes hold, employers must be prepared to assist workers in avoiding accidents and illnesses caused by heat stress.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat stress affects both outdoor and indoor workers exposed to hot environments. People at the highest risk of heat stress include workers 65 years of age or older and those who are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that increase sensitivity to heat.
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While there are several heat-related illnesses, the most serious is heatstroke, and the most common is heat exhaustion. When suffering from heatstroke, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body loses its ability to cool itself, causing the temperature to rise rapidly. Symptoms include confusion, slurred speech, hot/dry skin or profuse sweating, loss of consciousness, and seizures. It can be fatal or cause permanent disability if treatment is delayed.
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Heat exhaustion is the body's response to excessive loss of water and salt. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature and decreased urine output.
Organizations such as NIOSH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer resources to assist employers in understanding heat stress, prevention, first aid for suffering workers, and employee training. Interested employers should see additional NIOSH resources on “heat stress”.
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