The CDC says an average of more than 600 people each year die from heat related illnesses. According to several sources, there are over 7 million jobs that involve being outdoors in the summer. Summer officially doesn’t start for another week but heat and humidity have already made themselves known in Central Illinois with temperatures expected to reach the low 90s the rest of this week.
Mike Matulis of the Illinois Department of Labor wants to remind workers that heat illness is a serious concern every year and they want workers to be careful the next few weeks as the heat index begins to climb. “Where people tend to get in trouble is during those early days when high heat and humidity can spring on us at any day. Your body is just not ready for it and not used to it. Easing yourself into those days and taking the precautions knowing that you really aren’t ready and have to acclimate to it is very important. Keeping yourself hydrated is necessary. Making sure an employer provides some access to cool water on the job site especially for people who work outside in the heat and sun a lot or even those who work inside but face high heat conditions, having a place where people can cool off if they do get a little overheated and, if possible, maybe an air conditioned area or at least a place to stand so they can take a break and let their body cool off so they aren’t in those oppressive conditions all day long is needed. “
More than half of outdoor, heat-related deaths occur in the first few days of working in hot situations. Heat stroke is usually the most serious heat-related illness that can be fatal if not caught soon enough. Symptoms include confusion, high body temperature, hot or red skin, a fast, strong pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, and a loss of consciousness. If a worker shows signs of heat stroke, consider it a medical emergency and call 911. Assist the victim to a shaded, cooler place, and help lower their temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath.
Workers and employers should schedule frequent hydration breaks and breaks in shaded areas to combat any job site heat illnesses. Matulis says if private employers are putting workers at risk due to the heat, workers should contact the federal chapter of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. If you are a county, state, or municipal employee, the Illinois chapter would be the organization to turn to if you have a grievance about dangerous heat conditions that aren’t addressed properly.
Training materials on combating heat-related illness on the job site can be found at OSHA.gov/heat.