As summer temperatures heat up, solid waste drivers and workers in the outdoors need to take precautions to protect themselves from heat-related illnesses.
Summer months have brought the heat in places like Washington, Oregon, Ohio and Kentucky. In Portland last week, excessive heat warnings were in effect as temperatures hit triple digits and were expected to continue into this week.
Recently, temperatures in parts of southern central Kentucky, forced Warren County to change the collection schedule for its haulers, who requested the schedule change due to heat. The county agreed to the extended hours to protect workers, said Stan Reagan, coordinator for the county’s Division of Environmental Planning and Assistance.
With many more areas across the country experiencing elevated temperatures, those working in the heat may be susceptible to heatstroke and other heat-related afflictions.
Working outdoors in times of extreme heat can bring on heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash. The most dangerous of these, heat stroke, is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. In fact, in 2011, 587 people died in the U.S. from exposure to excessive heat, according to the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts 2015, the annual statistical report on unintentional injuries produced by the National Safety Council.
Heat-related illnesses can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage and even death.
It is essential to take safety precautions against heat stroke and sun exposure. Here are tips gathered from the CDC, OSHA and the National Waste & Recycling Association.
- Stay Hydrated. Drivers should be drinking 5 to 7 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes to stay hydrated. The CDC says when workers refrain from drinking until they “feel thirsty,” it is often too late. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, may also help by replacing salt and electrolytes lost by the body on hot days. Sugary drinks and sodas should be avoided.
- Dress for Success. Wearing light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing helps keep the body cooler. A hat and sunscreen will help, too, as protection against a sunburn, which could interrupt the body’s attempts to cool down on hot days.
- Keep Cool. It is important to stop all activity when feeling faint or weak. Use a fan and take occasional breaks, preferably in the shade. Rest in the shade or in an air-conditioned building to cool down.
- Know the Signs. Indications of heat-related fatigue include confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. Among other signs of heat stress are cramping, dizziness, hot dry skin and rapid, shallow breathing.
- Teamwork. Keep an eye on coworkers, especially those new to the work or new to working in high temperatures. Again, know the signs of heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke.
- Easy Does It. Pace yourself and gradually increase activity on your first days of work in the heat. Get your body used to working in high temperatures.