As we continue into the hottest months of the year, painting contractors need to remember three little words: water, rest and shade. That’s according to OSHA’s national out-reach program to remind those working outdoors that the heat can be deadly business. The NOAA reports that heat illness carries the highest 10-year average of all weather-related deaths, at 119 per year. Thousands more suffer from heat illness each year. Heat illness can come on fast and escalate quickly, wreaking havoc on your job site, employee morale and customer image. So, how do you protect yourself and your crew from heat illness this summer?
Here are a few things that can help you and your crew stay a little cooler during the summer months, starting with OSHA’s very helpful slogan:
Water: Drink it! Consistently and all day. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, because your body could already be dehydrated by the time it starts ringing the “I’m thirsty” bells.
Rest and Shade: Take frequent breaks in a shady, cool area to allow your body to cool off.
Start Early: If you are working in an area with very little shade, it’s a good idea to start as early as possible so you can stop before the mid-afternoon heat hits. Consider the upcoming heat index not only when you are planning your day and week, but when you are doing estimates and forecasting completion dates for clients. Your body will thank you, your crew will thank you and your coatings will thank you (don’t applying coatings in extreme heat and sun).
Dress for the Day: Make sure the clothing you wear is best-suited for the conditions you are working in. Light-colored clothing will reflect the sun, and lightweight clothing will help sweat evaporate more easily, keeping you cooler.
Sunscreen: Sunburns are uncomfortable and dangerous. Apply sunscreen to all areas of skin that are not covered with clothing, and reapply every hour (maybe when you are resting and drinking water in the shade).
Work Up to the Heat: If you or a crew member is not used to working in the extreme heat, work your way up to a full day in the heat over a few days.
Keep in mind that you can train employees and give them all the tools needed to stay cool and you might still end up with heat illness on your hands. Age, health, weight, medications and a number of other factors can all contribute to how people handle the heat. If you do find yourself in an emergency, here are some signs and symptoms to look for (in all of these cases, it’s time for the person exhibiting the symptoms to get out of the sun and heat):
Sunburn: Most of us have suffered one of these at some point in our lives and are pretty familiar with the signs –red, stinging skin. If the person has blisters, a fever or a headache, these can be signs of a much more severe case and the person might need to be seen by a physician.
“Heat illness can come on fast and escalate quickly.”
Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are exactly that – painful muscle cramps. Since the body excretes large amounts of salt when sweating, the body might be craving not only water but electrolytes. This is a good time to mix Gatorade or a sports drink with water. Generally heat cramps will resolve on their own once the person is rested, cool and rehydrated. However, if he or she can’t rehydrate because of nausea or is starting to show more severe symptoms (dizziness, fatigue, fever, malaise), it’s time to get to a healthcare professional.
Heat Exhaustion: Now we’re starting to get into the really serious stuff. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling faint, dizzy or nauseous; headache; sweaty or cool, moist skin with goose bumps; and/or a weak pulse. It’s time to get inside to a cool area and lay down. Loosen clothes and apply cool washcloths. Take sips of water, but not if feeling nauseous. If vomiting begins or continues, get to a healthcare professional.
Heat Stroke: Just remember that heat stroke is a life-threatening condition. When a person’s body temperature rises to 104 degrees, organs can start to experience irreversible damage. If you suspect that you or a crew member is having a heat stroke, call 911. You’re not a doctor, this is a serious condition and you don’t want this on your shoulders. The symptoms include (but are not limited to) high fever; hot, dry skin; racing heart or pulse; confusion; heavy breathing; and sometimes unconsciousness. While you are waiting for emergency assistance to arrive, get the person to a cool place, loosen his or her clothes, and apply cold washcloths to the person’s head, armpits, neck and groin (HANG). Mist the person with water while a fan is blowing on him or her.
The OSHA website includes fact sheets and posters in both English and Spanish. Consider adding the OSHA Heat Prevention Lesson Plan to your safety curriculum during the summer months. This will give you and workers a healthy knowledge of how to prevent and spot heat illness as well as what to do in an emergency. Check out osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html for more information. APC