Fire and Ice: Protecting Workers in Extreme Temperatures
- Donald J. Garvey (3M)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- September 2017
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 32 - 36
- 2017. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 5 in the last 30 days
- 17 since 2007
- Show more detail
- Fast-track projects make year-round work in adverse temperature conditions a common occurrence in construction. This article outlines the dangers of both heat and cold stress on the worker.
- It reviews multiple worker assessment methods, both instrumentation and observational, to help the frontline supervisor or OSH professional estimate worker risk to heat or cold stress injury.
- Based on the assessment, the OSH professional can select from multiple engineering, administrative and PPE controls to help maintain worker safety and health, as well as comfort during work in challenging temperature conditions.
Work, especially in construction or infrastructure renovation, often has a time value element and must continue even in adverse weather conditions. These conditions can add yet another hazard to an already potentially hazardous occupation. From 2008 to 2014, U.S. workers suffered 109 heat-related occupational fatalities (OSHA, 2015a). While occupational fatalities due to hypothermia may be less frequent, exposure to cold can result in nonfatal injuries and may lead to an increased risk of incidents. Anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of potential heat or cold stressors can allow the job to continue safely and productively with minimal interruption.
Reasons for Concern
Heat stress includes several heat-related illnesses: heat rash, cramps and exhaustion. These are not life-threatening conditions, but can contribute to low morale, irritability and fatigue, all of which can lead to taking shortcuts or skipping procedures, which can in turn create a safety hazard.
Another serious heat-related illness is heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. A study by Gubernot (2015) indicates that the construction industry experiences the second-highest rate of occupational heat fatalities (Table 1).
NIOSH (2016b) distinguishes between classical heat stroke and exertional heat stroke. Classical heat stroke is due to exposure to a hot, humid environment especially over the course of several days. It is commonly seen in older people or those with chronic illnesses. Exertional heat stroke, more commonly seen in the workplace, is caused by intense physical activity, especially workers who are not acclimated to high temperatures. Individual characteristics (e.g., age, health status), type of activity (e.g., sedentary vs. strenuous exertion) and symptoms (e.g., sweating vs. dry skin) vary between these two classifications. This article focuses on exertional heat stress and stroke.
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