Heat safety is an ongoing priority for Danella. With crews working year-round in various climates nationwide, we keep a constant eye on forecasts, best practices, and new opportunities to keep them as comfortable as possible and safe from heat stress.
But first – what is heat stress?
Heat stress and heat stroke are often confused, but it’s important to know the difference:
Heat stress – also called heat exhaustion – is the first sign that the body’s internal temperature control system is overwhelmed and cannot regulate itself. A telltale symptom is skin that feels cool to the touch (or pale to the eye) despite the fact that an individual is sweating. A fever may or may not be present; headaches, muscle cramps, confusion, and nausea are other symptoms experienced by some but not all heat stress sufferers. Heat stress can progress to a heat stroke if not treated.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal. It is generally marked by delirium and body temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
How does Danella protect employees from heat stress?
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not lay forth specific standards for preventing heat stress. As such, Danella relies on industry best practices and our own unfaltering focus on safety to guide each and every heat-related decision. Our efforts are robust and constantly reassessed, and boil down to the following:
Acclimation – wherever possible, efforts are made to let an individual incrementally build up to desired physical output in hot temperatures before fully exerting themselves. This is in keeping with the American Industrial Hygiene Association guidelines, which note that people in good physical condition tend to acclimate better because their cardiovascular systems are better equipped to handle extremes – a nod to the importance of healthy eating and exercise habits.
Engineering Controls – a fancy-sounding phrase for a fairly straightforward concept: Making work environments cooler whenever possible.
Safe Work Practices – Danella’s safe work practices vary from hour to hour – sometimes minute to minute – and may include the following:
- Scheduling work during off-peak hours when temperatures and sun exposure are likely to be lower
- Making water and electrolyte mix available to crews at all times
- Providing evaporative cooling towels that can be dipped in cold water and placed around the neck for several hours of cooling comfort
- Providing shields that attach to hard hats/headgear and offer shade beyond the hat’s brim and to the back of the neck
- Encouraging (and if the heat index is high, requiring) a minimum number of hydration and rest breaks
- Splitting up physical tasks like jackhammering and shoveling to prevent any one person from overheating
- Encouraging sunscreen application
- Encouraging crews to sit in vehicles and turn on air conditioning or spend time under tents during breaks.
Heat Index – the heat index is a system that looks at temperature and humidity (as opposed to temperature alone) to determine how heat will affect humans. Danella monitors the heat index throughout the day to determine whether the above safe work practices need to be adjusted
I’m not a physical laborer. Does this apply to me?
Heat stress is more common and more dangerous than many realize. More than 700 heat-related deaths occur in the United States each year, pointing to the importance of preventing and managing heat stroke . Protect yourself by avoiding some common missteps:
Watch your liquids. Most of us know that it’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot outside. But not all liquids hydrate the body – and some actually do the opposite.
“Energy drinks in particular can be misleading, and should be avoided in hot weather,” Danella Safety Director Dave Pancoast explains. “Because they include caffeine, they can influence changes in the heart’s electrical activity and have the potential to introduce heat stress.” Hot and cold coffee and energy drinks should be avoided on hot days. If you can’t avoid them, keep them to a minimum and offset them by drinking extra water and/or electrolyte-rich alternatives.
Food plays a role. “An empty stomach can exacerbate heat-related symptoms,” Pancoast explains. Be sure to eat before spending extended time in the sun – ideally hydration-rich fruits and vegetables.
Stay safe out there this summer!
Learn more about heat stress and your heart here.