August 15, 2022 at 6:51 p.m.
“Many of the farm accidents that we see are things that could have been prevented,” said Mary Bauer, a compliance assistance specialist with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Education is the key component to keeping farm safety first and foremost in peoples’ minds and preventing those incidents.”
OSHA is recognizing the success of workplace health and safety programs during Safe + Sound Week Aug. 15-21. This year’s focus is on preventing heat-related workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.
“Any occupation that requires people to spend a great deal of time outside during periods of intense or prolonged heat can become a dangerous one,” Bauer said. “Farming definitely fits into that category.”
According to OSHA statistics, last year more than 30 workers in the U.S. died from heat exposure. Bauer said those deaths could have been prevented if appropriate precautions had been taken.
“Anyone working outside in hot weather needs to remember three things: water, rest and shade,” Bauer said.
Job-related equipment, such as personal protective equipment, can exacerbate the effect heat might have on workers, Bauer said.
“Sometimes you might be able to schedule certain tasks, especially those that are very strenuous or require a lot of PPE, earlier in the day before the heat really ramps up,” Bauer said.
Steps that can be taken to help alleviate physical stress from working in hot conditions include providing workers with an adequate supply of clean drinking water.
“Remind workers to drink small amounts of water frequently before they become thirsty,” Bauer said. “It is best to drink a small amount every 15 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to drink four cups of water every hour.”
Bauer said employers should place urine color charts in employee restrooms to remind workers to ensure they are staying hydrated.
Allowing workers to take regular breaks in cool, shaded or air-conditioned areas is another way employers can ensure the health and wellness of their employees.
“Taking steps to help workers become acclimated to the heat is important,” Bauer said. “Especially for new workers who are unaccustomed to working during periods of intense heat. Things like gradually increasing the workload or allowing more frequent breaks during the first week can help the worker’s body acclimate to the stresses.”
Most importantly, Bauer said ensure everyone on the job site knows how to recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses.
“Training employees how to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries can go a long way,” Bauer said. “Make sure they know what the symptoms are and what to do if someone begins to exhibit those signs. Make sure they are watching out for each other, especially during heat waves.”
Bauer said heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate emergency medical attention.
“If someone is showing any signs of heat stroke, 911 needs to be called,” Bauer said. “A heat stroke is a medical emergency.”
Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or possibly profuse sweating. First aid that should be rendered while waiting for medical assistance to arrive would be moving the worker to a cool, shady area; loosening clothing; fanning air on the victim and applying cool water or ice packs to the skin. Giving small amounts of water is helpful as long as the victim is not vomiting.
“Taking simple steps like these could help save a person’s life,” Bauer said.
Heat exhaustion is a slightly less serious heat-related illness but is one that Bauer said requires intervention. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and excessive sweating. Heat fatigue, cramps and rash are also signs of overexposure to heat.
Being prepared for a medical emergency that might arise can make all the difference in the final outcome, Bauer said.
“Workers who show symptoms of heat-related illnesses need immediate attention,” she said. “It can be a matter of life and death.”
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