With the coming of summer and the accompanying potential for high temperatures and humidity, OSHA wants to make sure employers and their workers have the information they need to cope with extreme heat.

"Workers become more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses during extremely hot weather and those who don''t take precautions could suffer rashes, cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion or heat stroke," said Ruth McCully, OSHA''s New England regional administrator. "In the most severe cases, excessive heat can be more than uncomfortable, it can be life-threatening. However, if workers and employers follow a few simple guidelines, heat hazards can be minimized."

OSHA suggests the following tips for employers and workers to prevent heat-related disorders.

  • Encourage workers to drink plenty of water -- about one cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffinated soft drinks which contribute to dehydration.
  • Help workers adjust to the heat by assigning a lighter workload and longer rest periods for the first five to seven days of intense heat.
  • Encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Workers should change their clothing if it gets completely saturated.
  • Use general ventilation and spot cooling at points of high heat production.
  • Learn to sport the signs of heat stroke, which can be fatal. The symptoms are severe headache, mental confusion/loss of consciousness, flushed face, and hot, dry skin.
  • Train first-aid workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress. Be sure that all workers know who is trained to render first aid.
  • Consider a worker''s physical condition when determining fitness to work in hot environments.
  • Alternate work and rest periods, with longer rest periods in a cooler area. Shorter, but frequent, work-rest cycles are best.
  • Certain medical conditions, such as heart conditions, or treatments like low-sodium diets and some medications, increase the risk from heat exposure.
  • Monitor temperatures, humidity and workers'' response to heat at least hourly.

Two free OSHA publications on heat stress that are of particular interest to workers and employers, "Protecting Workers in Hot Environments" and "Heat Stress Card," are available via OSHA''s Web site at www.osha.gov.

by Virginia Sutcliffe