OSHA combating heat injuries in North Carolina

Summer is a particularly dangerous time of year for North Carolina construction workers, agricultural employees and anyone else who works outside. While heat-related injuries are possible anywhere, the risk is distinctly higher in the South because of the notoriously hot weather.

Because of this, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is conducting an education and awareness campaign aimed at reducing heat-related workplace injuries in the Southeast United States. The agency is targeting employers and trade associations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. In June, OHSA visited a number of workplaces to conduct seminars on identifying and preventing heat injuries.

In addition to these in-person seminars, OSHA provides a number of very helpful online and print resources.

Heat injury warning signs

Heat injury occurs when the ambient temperature is so high that the body cannot adequately cool itself through sweating. Heat injuries can range all the way from an annoying or painful heat rash to fatal heat stroke.

Heat injuries can progress quickly, so it is important to take time to learn about the warning signs and how to help someone who appears to be suffering from a heat injury.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related injury, and it can cause death if not recognized and treated promptly. Some of the warning signs of heat stroke include hot dry skin, elevated body temperature, confusion, fainting and seizures.

Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke. In addition, heat exhaustion makes workers more susceptible to other types of accidents and injuries. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, headache, elevated heart rate, nausea, weakness and cramps.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are emergency conditions, and workers who are displaying symptoms of either should be given immediate medical attention. While waiting for first responders to arrive, coworkers can help by moving the worker to a shaded area, removing the worker's excess clothing, applying cold compresses and encouraging the worker to drink cool water.

In nearly all cases, medical care for work-related heat injuries will be covered by workers' compensation, so workers should be treated even if they do not have health insurance.

Preventing heat injury

As with all workplace safety hazards, prevention can go a long way toward minimizing injury.

Employers can reduce the risk of heat injury by ensuring that workers have adequate access to water, rest and shade. In hot weather, workers should be encouraged to drink a glass of water every 15 minutes, even if they are not feeling thirsty.

In addition, employers should create a shaded area in which workers are able to take breaks. If it is not possible to bring in an air-conditioned trailer, employers should at least set up a canopy. Workers should be encouraged to take rest breaks at regular intervals.