Whether it’s general exposure to sun and humidity outdoors or working near heavy machinery that creates a high-temperature environment, every employer needs to think about how heat impacts their workers. It is a definite threat to many oil and gas and industrial sites, so it’s a risk you can’t afford to ignore.
Heat illnesses can be difficult to gauge until it’s too late, regardless of how common it occurs on industrial worksites. In fact, the continued prevalence of injury and death from prolonged heat exposure is one of the reasons that drove the development of OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign, which was originally launched in 2011.
The Many Threats of Heat Exposure
There are several consequences to overheating the human body. While many are mild and can be recovered from in a matter of minutes when caught early, they can also be serious enough to threaten lives. That’s why it’s important to know about particular heat illnesses, including how they manifest and how to address these symptoms.
Heatstroke is one of the most serious heat illnesses that workers can develop and it can happen suddenly. High heat exposure can limit the body’s ability to manage its own temperature. When this happens, the body’s temperature can start escalating out of control and reach 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which can cause permanent disability or death if not treated immediately.
Early warning signs typically include unpredictable or unusual brain function. Other workers may notice changes in personality, unresponsiveness in conversation and slurring of words before more serious symptoms develop. As the condition progresses, it can lead to seizures and loss of consciousness, which can also put other people at risk if the person is operating heavy machinery.
Heat exhaustion can cause some cognitive symptoms as well but is generally less serious than heatstroke. This condition develops when a worker loses excessive water and salt through sweating without replacing their fluids fast enough. Age and weight can both accelerate symptoms and put people at higher risk of serious side effects.
Salt and water are both vital to basic bodily functions, so this problem can compromise physical and mental abilities. Physical symptoms often include headache, dizziness and a feeling of weakness. Visible signs that others may notice include irritability when dealing with others, lack of situational awareness and consistent or excessive sweating.
A rash may not be as threatening as some other heat illnesses, but can still be an irritating and serious issue. Workers exposed to excessive heat may develop persistent and painful rashes across their bodies, which can be distracting and make their clothing or equipment difficult or uncomfortable to wear properly.
Responding to Ongoing Heat Threats
In addition to a general first-aid and urgent care response plan, employers should also provide some facilities where employees can go to beat the heat. A designated cool area, preferably indoors with plenty of water, is a good place to start. Any worker who shows visible signs of a heat illness should report to this area immediately to take a break and consume fluids.
This area should also be equipped with some emergency supplies, like a basin and water supply to allow for a cool water bath to alleviate serious symptoms. It should also have multiple beverage options that include water as well as liquids that restore essential electrolytes or salts.
Preventing Heat Risks
Even though every employer in the oil and gas industry should equip their facilities to respond to the threat of heat exposure, it’s always better to prevent these problems rather than address them. That’s why it’s worth developing good safety systems and practices that minimize the risk of heat illness for everyone on the site.
Basic prevention includes providing proper protective equipment to shield employees from the sun and from the heat coming off of heavy machinery. Workers should be trained and encouraged to recognize the signs of heat illness in others so they can watch out for their co-workers on the job. Team leaders and site managers should also develop schedules that cycle workers into the break area to rest and re-hydrate throughout the day.
Heat Safety Solutions
Heat safety is a big concern for oil and gas operators that requires proper safety plans to effectively protect their staff. We help employers develop successful solutions to minimize the risk of heat exposure to their workforce, cut down on accident rates and improve overall productivity.
We know how to prioritize, address and mitigate all of the major threats that jeopardize worker health, so you can rely on us for comprehensive solutions that truly cover your needs.