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Employers’ role in combating workers’ heat stress
California law now requires employers to take specific measures that help their outdoor workers avoid getting heat-related illnesses. This regulation adds to all employers’ obligation to provide safe and healthful workplaces both indoors and out.
Outdoor employers must provide one quart of drinking water per person per hour, a shaded rest area, and training for workers and their supervisors on preventing and treating heat-related illnesses.
It’s a good idea for employers and workers to monitor and adjust to conditions that can cause heat illness, such as the temperature and humidity, the difficulty and duration of the work, the amount of exposure to direct sunlight, the types of clothing and personal protective equipment used, and whether the worker is used to working in a hot environment.
One way that managers and foremen can help workers stay more comfortable, perform better and safer, and avoid heat-related illness is by keeping drinking water containers as close as possible to centers of activity. If the water is too far away, such as at the end of a long row, workers may not want to take time away from their tasks or go to the trouble of getting it.
Common early signs and symptoms of heat stress include headache, muscle cramps, uncoordinated, inattentive, and unusual fatigue. However, more serious illness can set in quickly, and can cause confusion, unusual behavior, vomiting, hot dry skin or a lot of sweating, or loss of consciousness. Even when they do not lead to illness, heat stress symptoms make accidents and injuries more likely.
If workers begin experiencing heat stress symptoms, supervisors should insist they rest in a cooler, shaded area and drink plenty of water. Loosen the workers’ clothing and fan them with anything available, such as a piece of cardboard or a sign.
In case of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately.