It is common knowledge that too much sun and heat are dangerous. What electrical contractors may find surprising is the impact of these hazards and the control the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may exercise over an employer for providing protection. A better understanding of these hazards and protection required is needed throughout the industry.

Excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause severe sunburn and has been linked to aging of the skin, cataracts and skin cancer. Workers in hot environments are subject to a variety of heat disorders. In addition, accident frequency is higher in hot environments.

Heat lowers mental alertness and physical performance. Increased body temperature and physical discomfort promote irritability and anger, which may cause workers to overlook safety procedures. Sweaty palms lower the body’s resistance to electricity and cause tools to slip easily. Fogging of safety glasses can decrease visibility.

Heat stroke is the most severe heat disorder. During heat stroke, the body cannot regulate its core temperature and perspiration stops. Symptoms include mental confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness, convulsions, increased body temperature and hot dry skin, which also may appear red, mottled or bluish. Unless treated quickly, victims of heat stroke will die. Contact emergency medical services, move the victim to a cool area and soak his or her clothing with cool water.

Another serious heat disorder is heat exhaustion, which can result from loss of fluid. Symptoms include clammy and moist skin, pale or flushed complexion, fatigue, nausea and headaches. The victim will continue to perspire and may become giddy. Move the victim to a cool place and provide fluids such as a sports drink, which can help replace electrolytes as well as prevent dehydration. Have the victim seek medical attention.

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms caused when workers drink large quantities of water but fail to replace their bodies’ salt loss. Cramps may occur even after you leave work. Victims should consume fluids. Salt is often recommended, but most American diets contain sufficient salt to counteract heavy perspiration.

Heat rash or prickly heat may occur in hot and humid environments where perspiration does not evaporate easily. If infection sets in, the discomfort could cause temporary disability.

Although OSHA does not have a standard governing exposure to the sun or hot environments, heat stress is governed by the General Duty Clause and 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.132(a) is applied to protect against the sun’s radiation. The clause states that an employer must provide “employment free from recognized hazards ... causing or ... likely to cause physical harm.”

As identified here, the sun and heat are recognized hazards. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established guidelines for reducing possible injury or illness. These guidelines require the use of administrative, engineering and personal protective equipment (PPE) controls. The 1910.132(a) standard pertains to PPE and can include wide-brim hats, long-sleeved clothing and sunscreen when dealing with heat.

Four environmental factors affect heat stress: temperature, humidity, radiant heat (sun) and airflow. Personal factors such as age, weight, fitness, medical condition and acclimatization to the heat also play a part.

Humans are generally capable of acclimating to the heat. Normally, this takes about five to seven days. Workers should begin with 50 percent of the normal workload and time exposure the first day, and gradually build up to 100 percent by the fifth day.

Don’t forget to allow for varying personal factors. Find out if employees have medical conditions or take medications that might increase the affect of heat stress. Some medications don’t mix with heat (e.g., blood pressure, diuretics or water pills).

Protect employees from exposure to the sun’s UV rays by having them cover up and use sunscreen. They should wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made of tightly woven, nontransparent material. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 will block up to 93 percent of the UV rays and is recommended. UV-absorbent safety sunglasses should also be worn. Check with your safety equipment manufacturer. If possible, provide cover to block out the sun.

Finally, make sure employees receive training on heat stress. They need to be aware of heat stress prevention measures and the various heat disorders. In severe heat conditions, consider working with experts to monitor employees. Various measures can be used to identify heat stress potential such as heart rate and body temperature. Knowing when heat stress may occur can avoid a serious injury or illness. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.