Here are some heat illness myths identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that can be real killers:
Myth #1: The difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke is that when you’re having heatstroke, you don’t sweat.
Not true! Heatstroke victims may continue to sweat. A worker experiencing symptoms of heatstroke—confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, high body temperature—whether the person is sweating or not, is having a life-threatening emergency! Call 911, and try to cool the worker down.
Myth #2: Taking a break in air conditioning will ruin your acclimatization.
Not true! You can usually maintain your acclimatization for a few days of nonheat exposure, so taking a break in an air-conditioned area will not reduce your level of acclimatization. Air conditioning is a very effective way to cool down in a fairly short period of time, so go ahead and sit where it’s cool when you’re taking a break.
Myth #3: Acclimatization will protect you during a heat wave.
Not true! You become acclimatized—adjusted to hot conditions and more efficient at shedding excess heat—when you are exposed to extreme environmental conditions over a 7- to 10-day period. However, during heat waves, air temperatures rise above normal quickly, and it will take time for you to acclimatize to the new, hotter temperatures.
During a heat wave, you will need more breaks and may need to reschedule some of the harder and hotter job tasks until the heat wave passes.
Myth #4: Salt tablets are a great way to restore electrolytes lost during sweating.
Not true! Never use salt tablets unless directed by your doctor. You can easily overdose on salt with the tablets, and that can cause nausea and vomiting—which can worsen your level of dehydration. Most people can restore electrolytes through normal meals and snacks. Make sure you drink plenty of water with your meals and snacks, both to stay hydrated and to aid digestion.
Helping Workers Stay Cool
NIOSH and OSHA offer tools to help employers keep workers cool during the summer months:
Hydration check. NIOSH recommends that employers put urine color charts that compare the urine color of a hydrated person with that of a dehydrated person near your toilet facilities so workers can check their hydration. There are downloadable, printable charts available on the Internet. Here is one example: http://gacc.nifc.gov/nwcc/content/pdfs/safety/DOD_Urine%20Color%20Test_Poster.pdf.
Heat Safety App. OSHA offers a smartphone app, available in both English and Spanish, that workers can use to calculate the heat index at their worksite. It’s called OSHA Heat Safety Tool, and it lets workers know instantly if they are in a high-risk zone due to heat and humidity. It also indicates the necessary precautions to take. It was recently updated for iOS to be more intuitive and now includes the daily maximum temperature so that employers can plan work around the hottest part of the day, moving the most strenuous tasks to cooler hours and taking appropriate precautions when risk is highest. The new version of the iOS app offers a full screen color alert and improved navigation. The app is free and available for iPhone and Android at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at getting workers back on the job safely after they have suffered a heat-related illness.