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By Damian Simoneaux, LWCC Safety Services Manager
Louisiana summers are notoriously hot. From June to September, the state experiences average high temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, high humidity can make these temperatures feel as high as 120 degrees.
From sun soakers to athletes to those who work outdoors, no one is immune to our harsh summer conditions. LWCC offers steps you can take to prepare and protect yourself, your family and your employees from severe heat exposure – from proper hydration to skin protection as well as a heat acclimatization plan.
Stay Hydrated. Stay Safe.
The best way to beat the summer heat and avoid heat-related stress is to stay properly hydrated, drinking plenty of water, even before beginning to feel thirsty.
- Drink water before, during, and after physical labor to replace body fluids lost in sweating.
- Always keep a cooler or bottle of water nearby.
- Track your water intake, making sure to drink 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drink a glass of water with every meal or snack.
- Sports drinks are also an option, as they can often help replenish the body’s electrolytes.
What to Avoid:
- Coffee, tea, or soda can act as diuretics, further depleting your body of fluids.
- Alcohol can cause accelerated dehydration, especially when consumed within 24 hours of working in the heat.
- Many energy drinks contain high amounts of sugar and caffeine, which can do more damage to your heart with the added heat strain on your body.
Don’t Just Hydrate, Acclimate.
Heat exposure is a necessary component of many jobs. However, with the appropriate tools and precautions, employees can complete their work safely and efficiently. Implementing a heat acclimatization plan to help workers gradually adjust to extreme temperatures is among the most important steps employers can take to protect against heat-related illness, fatalities, accidents, and injuries.
What is a Heat Acclimatization Plan?
A heat acclimatization plan works to gradually increase an individual’s heat tolerance by progressively increasing the time or intensity of work performed in hot conditions over a period of several days. Workers who are better acclimated to the high temperatures experience less strain on their vital organs, including the heart. Their bodies also become more efficient at cooling by producing more sweat. However, heat tolerance will begin to decline after one week away from work, and it will return to baseline after about a month. Therefore, it is critically important that workers be reacclimated following any extended period of time away from the job.
Steps in a Heat Acclimatization Plan
Heat acclimatization plans should be specific to each employee and should also take into account their amount of previous experience on the job and how long they have been away from the job. The CDC recommends the following steps:
- Day 1: Allow full-intensity work in the heat for no more than 20% of their shift
- Day 2-5: Increase work time by 20% each day until they reach full exposure
- Day 1: Allow full intensity work in the heat for no more than 50% of their shift
- Day 2: Increase work time to 60%
- Day 3: Increase work time to 80%
- Day 4: Increase work time to 100%
Protect Your Skin.
Applying sunblock and wearing proper attire can help reduce the risk of heat-related health hazards such as heat rash, cramps, exhaustion, and — in extreme cases — heatstroke. Common symptoms and treatments for various heat-related conditions include:
- Symptoms: Red skin, pain, blisters, or — in extreme cases — fever and headache
- Treatment: Apply approved ointments for mild cases; seek medical attention in severe cases
- Symptoms: “Prickly,” painful skin rash caused by clogged sweat ducts
- Treatment: Rest in a cool place, bathe in cool water, and dry skin thoroughly
- Symptoms: Painful spasms in the legs or abdomen, often accompanied by heavy sweating
- Treatment: Apply firm pressure or gently massage the cramped muscle; drink plenty of water
- Symptoms: Sweating, clammy skin, weakness, fatigue, slightly elevated body temperature, headache, disorientation
- Treatment: Move to a cool place (preferably with a fan or AC), apply a cool cloth, drink fluids, and consider seeking medical attention if symptoms do not improve
- Symptoms: Hot, dry, red or spotted skin, extremely high body temperature, confusion, convulsions, loss of consciousness
- Treatment: Move to a cool place and immediately seek medical attention
Until we reach cooler temperatures, you can reduce the risk of heat stress by staying well-hydrated, dressing in light colors and loose-fitting clothing, taking frequent breaks from the heat, and watching for symptoms of heat-related injuries.
For more information, visit www.lwcc.com/resource-category/safety