Hydrate the right way to ward off heat illness
June 20, 2013
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Tomorrow, June 21, is the summer solstice, the official first day of summer. With temperatures reaching into the 90s, however, the weather has felt like summer for a couple of weeks now.
As the season progresses, employees need to take precautions when working in the heat to prevent heat injuries and illnesses.
"Last year, temperatures in the Anniston area were record breaking," said Rachel Long of Anniston Army Depot's Safety Office. "On June 30, 2012, the temperature reached 104 degrees. The ANAD Safety Office reminds all employees to take precautions because heat can kill. However, many heat injuries are 100 percent preventable."
The best way to beat the heat and prevent a heat illness is to stay hydrated.
"Usually, heat illnesses occur because someone is not maintaining a good state of hydration," said Dan Robertson, a nurse with the Dear Occupational Health Clinic, adding that hydration is not just a matter of drinking fluids. It can be a matter of drinking the right fluids.
Water, sports drinks and fruit juices are what Robertson recommends.
"Soft drinks and teas do not hydrate like water and sports drinks do," said James Slick, an assistant chief for the depot's Fire and Emergency Services Division.
Robertson adds that any type of caffeine and nicotine could make an employee more susceptible to dehydration.
Water coolers are not permitted in industrial work areas. However, supervisors and team leaders must follow the guidance established in the ANAD Heat Injury Prevention Policy Letter 2013.
This policy states, "Supervisors will make cool water available and allow short breaks as needed to drink more fluids. Short, frequent breaks are better than long, infrequent ones. Supervisors should periodically monitor that their employees are drinking adequate fluids."
Throughout the day, the wet bulb globe temperature, a measure of heat stress in direct sunlight, is monitored by Industrial Hygiene. When it appears the heat conditions will remain steady for several hours, the IH Office notifies the Safety Office, which provides the Operations Center with a heat stress notification e-mail.
It is important for the information in this e-mail be disseminated to all employees on the installation, so each individual can make whatever activity modifications are appropriate.
"To my knowledge, the Safety Office does not provide a recommended work/rest cycle," said Long. "However, during periods of unusually high heat, the Safety Office will advise directors when extended breaks are warranted or when outdoor work should be curtailed."
Some members of the ANAD workforce attempt to beat the heat with fans, which are allowed in most work areas as long as they have a guard on them to prevent injury.
"Please ensure that if you are using a fan in your shop or office that it is in good repair and the guard is in place," said Long.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, heat illnesses are a spectrum of symptoms ranging from dehydration to death. In the early stages, an individual may experience heat cramps. If dehydration and exposure to heat continues, nausea, dizziness and vomiting, signs of heat exhaustion, may occur.
"It's getting pretty serious at that point because the body is losing its ability to cool itself," said Robertson.
To Slick and Robertson's knowledge, there have not been any cases of heat stroke on the depot, the final stage of heat illness.
"If someone quits sweating, we're on the verge of a heat stroke," said Slick "We have had some employees with heat cramps and some nausea and vomiting associated with the heat."
Slick said employees should call 9-1-1 immediately if a co-worker is experiencing signs of heat illness and let the emergency responders determine if it is heat related or not.
Robertson said it is a good idea for employees to monitor their urine output on hot days to ensure proper hydration.
"The main way people can tell if they are hydrated is by monitoring their urine output -- the frequency and color," said Robertson, adding that frequency should be approximately every four hours and the urine should be clear if you are well-hydrated.
Tips for avoid a heat illness:
• Hydrate well and with the correct fluids (water, sports drinks, fruit juices)
• Don't wear layers
• Pace yourself
• As much as possible, work as a team
• As much as possible, schedule strenuous activity in the morning
• Monitor your length of exposure to heat
• Hydration during work replaces fluids being lost. Continuing to hydrate during periods of rest helps to prevent dehydration.
For additional information, visit http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/heat/index.shtml or http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Heat Safety Tool is available for Android, Apple or Blackberry phones at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html.