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How do heat-related illnesses occur in the workplace?

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Whether you work in an outdoor or indoor environment, your body requires a specific range of temperature to remain healthy and continue working productively. Employers should never allow employees to undergo a dangerous amount of heat exposure.

However, according to OSHA, millions of workers face heat exposure and thousands become ill due to exposure, with many cases becoming fatal.

What Are Heat-Related Illnesses?

When you work in a hot environment, your body has to work to rid you of excess heat. Your body increases blood flow and you sweat to cool yourself down naturally. However, when the function does not occur quickly enough, your body temperature rises until you experience thirst, rashes, irritability, exhaustion and even heat stroke. Heatstroke can lead to unconsciousness, disorientation, confusion and mental dysfunction.

How Can Employers Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses?

Proper management can help avoid heat-related illnesses from occurring on the job. For example, workers who do not have experience working in hot environments should have the opportunity to gain a tolerance to the heat. Your body can withstand warmer environments with enough safe exposure. During the initial few shifts, employers should provide water and encourage their employees to consume water, sports drinks and other hydrating fluids. Employees may require frequent breaks and shorter shifts to handle the temperature.

Indoor environments may benefit from having air conditioning to create a safer workplace. Managers can schedule harder labor during the morning and keep physical activity to a minimum during the hottest points of the day.

Illnesses due to the heat can result in lost productivity and hospitalization. All employers, supervisors and employees need to be able to recognize heat-related conditions.

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