Beat the Heat: Avoid Dehydration on the Front Lines
After a prolonged winter, nothing brightens the mood like a rich summer sun. Overcast days are few, temperatures are high, and vitamin D is available to all in abundance. For desk jockeys and frontline workers alike, these conditions can be a perfect antidote to the gray haze that dominates the weather from December through April in many regions.
Prolonged exposure to these elements is also the very thing that leads to dehydration and overheating. Getting educated on the why’s and how’s of heat stress can help you avoid heat exhaustion at work and beat the heat this summer.
The Dangers of Dehydration and Other Heat Illnesses
Working in the sun can quickly turn dangerous without properly planning ahead. It’s important to remember that our body’s ability to regulate heat is dependent on three factors:
- The work environment and/or atmospheric conditions
- Work-related stressors
- Personal habits and behavior
Work stressors mentioned above might include bulky PPE. Though required for safe working, they can add heat stress to the body in high temperatures. Additionally, operating heavy machinery can also lead to stifling conditions and heavy sweating. Another major factor may be the lack of shade. Many industrial work sites have large areas of uncovered real estate, such as transload terminals or some articulated tug boats.
In an article written by the Mayo Clinic, doctors identify dehydration as becoming especially dangerous for adults as they age, because they are prone to have a lower volume of water in their bodies. Symptoms of extreme heat stress can manifest both physically and behaviorally. They include:
- Excessive dryness in the eyes and mouth
- Inconsistent urination
- Weak or rapid heart palpitations
- Heat rash
Ironically, people who are unable to avoid heat exhaustion at work may have difficulty keeping fluids down. The best way to combat dehydration and heat stress is to never get it. That means planning from the beginning to beat the heat.
How to Avoid Heat Exhaustion at Work
Preventing dehydration and other heat-related illnesses is equal measures preparation, observation, and wisdom.
Prepare to beat the heat by familiarizing yourself with the tools your office provides. These can help you stay informed on your office’s particular policies, and be reminded of dangers inherent to the job. They may include:
- The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app
- Various printed materials hanging around the office, such as posters and tip sheets
- An official work-rest schedule
- Specific emergency response plans for your place of work
If you have any questions about how to put an end to dehydration and heat exhaustion in your workplace, or about what tools are available, you can consult with your team’s safety officer.
Observation is another key component to beat the heat. This means being aware of how you are feeling and noting changes in your own condition or of those around you.
- Becoming familiar with symptoms helps you see when a situation goes from uncomfortable to dangerous.
- Team Members who were unable to avoid heat exhaustion at work may need help recovering.
- Sometimes people need to be reminded to drink or take breaks.
Being aware of your surroundings (including people and equipment) is one of the best ways to avoid heat exhaustion at work. Like with any dangerous situation, the rule is: if you see something, say something.
Knowing your limits, or respecting that you’re not yet ready to work, is not weakness – it’s wisdom. Far more damage can be done to the progress of the current task if Team Members fail to look after themselves. Wisdom is being able to perceive problems before they occur, and take steps to prevent them.
- Take time to acclimatize to the heat before jumping into work. This means gradually increasing exposure to the hotter elements over a period of one to two weeks.
- Avoid heavy exertion during the hottest parts of the day as much as possible.
- Don’t cut corners on taking breaks, including spending time in the shade.
- Don’t forget protective gear like hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
- Fight dehydration by drinking fluids containing electrolytes.
Working in wisdom not only helps you beat the heat, but helps keeps progress consistent for the company and the Customer.
This Summer, Pledge to Beat the Heat
Joining the fight against dehydration isn’t just about personal comfort. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reminds us that environmental heat exposure is consistently fatal in the workplace. This summer, you can pledge to beat the heat by taking all necessary precautions – ensuring that your work area is complete with water stations and shaded rest areas.
Remaining observant of your mind and body, as well as the behavior of your fellow Team Members, will keep everyone healthy. Together, we can reach the only reasonable goal, summer weather or otherwise: achieving zero incidents. Diligence and wisdom are key in this effort.
If we can successfully avoid heat exhaustion at work, this summer may be exactly what we needed after a long and gray winter.