If you can’t take the heat, follow the hierarchy

From indirect calorimetry to wet bulb globe thermometers, the strategies safety pros use to protect workers from heat exposure would make the average person’s eyes gloss over. Fortunately, we cater to average people on this blog.

How hot does it feel?
When talk turns to heat safety, it’s tempting to take our cues from the thermometer. But temperature only shows half the picture. The heat index, which combines temperature and humidity, is a more accurate reflection of the climate and how it will affect you.
Heat index Risk level Protective measures
Less than 91 degrees Fahrenheit Lower caution Basic heat safety and planning
91 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit Moderate Implement precautions and heighten awareness
103 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit High Additional precautions to protect workers
Greater than 115 degrees Fahrenheit Very high to extreme Triggers even more aggressive protective measures

So here’s the message in plain language: Summer temperatures in Texas are unpleasant at best, fatal at worst.

People who make their living outdoors, as well as those who do physical work in warehouses and other hot indoor spaces, will be at risk of heat illness. Their employers need to take steps to protect them.

Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD in thermodynamics to avoid heat illness. What you do need is a system for identifying the best ways to protect yourself this summer. Safety professionals call it the hierarchy of controls. The rest of us can call it an easy way to keep our cool with hot, humid weather descending on Texas.

Engineering controls

Engineering controls deliver the most effective protection against workplace hazards. Engineering controls eliminate the hazard at its source:

  • Provide air conditioning and/or cooling fans.
  • Increase ventilation; provide portable ventilation when possible.
  • Install local exhaust ventilation, such as exhaust hoods in laundry rooms and other hot, moist workplaces.
  • Redirect heat with reflective shields.
  • Insulate hot surfaces, such as furnace walls.

Administrative controls

Administrative controls are the second-most effective way to control hazards. Administrative controls change the way employees do the work. The goal is to reduce exposure to the hazard:

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE is your least-effective control against workplace hazards because it carries risk. PPE could be damaged, and it could give the user a false sense of security. So PPE should always be your last line of defense against workplace hazards:

  • Broad-brimmed hats with neck flaps
  • Light-colored, breathable clothing
  • Safety glasses with tinted, polarized lenses
  • SPF 15-25 sun block
  • Water-cooled garments, air-cooled garments, cooling vests and wetted over-garments
  • Insulated gloves, insulated suits, reflective clothing and infrared reflecting face shields
  • Thermally conditioned clothing, such as a garment with a self-contained air conditioner in a backpack
  • A garment with a compressed air source that feeds cool air through a vortex tube
  • A plastic jacket with pockets filled with dry ice or containers of ice

Heat claims landscaper’s life

A 30-year old landscaper collapsed and died at the end of a day spent mowing lawns. Doctors recorded his body temperature at 107.6 degrees, compared with a normal temperature of 98.6 degrees.

The day of the incident, temperatures climbed no higher than 81 degrees. So how could the man’s core temperature reach a fatal level on such a relatively mild day?

Further examination revealed the worker was taking a prescription medication that increased his risk of heat-related illness.

Some prescription medications affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond appropriately to heat. Similarly, some illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can increase your core temperature.

We encourage you to watch this 30-minute Texas Mutual webinar titled “Keep your cool this summer” for the rest of this case study in heat illness. Our experts will also define the most common varieties of heat illness and give you more tips for protecting your employees.

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