Imagine a male railroad employee working in the middle of summer. The sun is hitting directly on his skin as he finishes his first task for the day, but two hours later, he starts to feel uncomfortable, even nauseated.
Instead of taking a break or cooling off, he continues his routine and ends up fainting by late afternoon. After he was taken to the hospital, the doctors concluded the worker suffered a heatstroke when his body temperature hit 104 degrees.
Severe heatstroke and heat exhaustion could be fatal if untreated, and railroad workers who stay outside during the summer months are at a higher risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses. It’s important for employers and employees to establish a safe work practices during the hottest times of the year.
The main responsibility as an employer is to keep workers safe, and employers can do this through prevention. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides specific heat regulations and strategies for working in heat:
- Provide free access to water
- Provide shade especially when temperatures hit above 80 degrees
- Train employees in heat prevention
- Encourage employees to take breaks for water and rest
- Let employees know they can take additional breaks if needed
- Make sure to understand your first aid procedures if an emergency happens
As an employee, you need to prevent and recognize heat-related symptoms. It can be simple if you follow three simple steps:
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to drink 4 cups of water every hour.
- Take breaks to rest and let your body recover.
- Rest in the shade or in air-conditioning. It helps cool your body temperature.
It may seem difficult at first to leave a task or stop your job for water breaks, but your health is your main priority. It also helps to know heat-related symptoms in case of an emergency. If you see a coworker or peer with these symptoms, seek proper medical attention:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Red, hot skin
- Lack of sweating despite extreme heat
Keep yourself and other workers safe by avoiding the heat this summer and staying hydrated throughout the workday.