to Staying Safe While Working in the Heat: Acclimatization
One of the best defenses against heat-related illnesses and
fatalities is allowing employees to acclimate to the heat, says the California
Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA. Letting
workers to adjust to changes in weather by gradually increasing their exposure
and physical activity likely reduces the risk of heat-related issues, the agency
says. "Our studies of heat-related illnesses and deaths indicate that
acclimatization is an important factor in the prevention of heat illness," says
Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh. "It is especially critical to be vigilant with new
workers, and during our first exposure to the high temperatures such as those we
are currently experiencing."
The risk of dying from heat illness appears to be highest for
employees who just begin working in extreme heat as the body needs to adapt
gradually to exertions in the heat and humidity, the agency says. Most people
adjust to the weather or acclimate within four-to-14 days of regular work
levels, according to Cal/OSHA heat illness prevention data. "It is imperative to
monitor your employees at all times during hot weather and allow those who are
new to working in hot weather to gradually adapt to the daily routine," said
Welsh. Raising awareness is also an important key in preventing heat illness. In
2005, California became the first state in the nation to develop a safety and
health regulation addressing heat illness, and Cal/OSHA issued permanent heat
illness prevention regulations to protect outdoor workers in 2006.
The rules require mandatory training for employees and
supervisors. Information on acclimatization, encouraging employees to drink
water continuously throughout the day, and taking frequent cool-down breaks or
preventative recovery periods in the shade, among other actions are included in
the mandatory training.
In addition to the requirements outlined in the heat illness
prevention regulations, employers may consider starting the work day early and
pacing work activities for their workers, the agency says. Other prevention
techniques include increasing the number of water and rest breaks or
preventative recovery periods on hot days and encouraging the use of a "buddy
system" to monitor employees in the field.