Higher temps increase risks for heat-related illnesses, death

As temperatures reach 90 degrees on June 10 in Angels Camp, workers continue the construction of the new Tractor Supply Co. on the north end of the city. Many employers have their staff begin outdoor work earlier in the day during the hot summer months to reduce the risks of heat-related illnesses.

As the temperatures climb toward the century mark, employers need to take precautions in keeping their outdoor workers safe.

With temperatures forecast to be in the low 90- to 100-degree range over the coming days, local employers and their outdoor workers can avoid heat illnesses by taking simple precautionary steps.

“It’s pretty simple really; hydration, rest and shade,” said Kevin Wright, Calaveras County Agriculture Commissioner. “People start earlier and quiet before the heat of the day.”

Indeed, most outdoor workers, whether in vineyards and other crops, construction, mail delivery or other trades, are able to start by 5:30 a.m. as the sun is coming up.

“In the afternoon, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone. Field workers are done. By 1 p.m., they are done,” Wright said. “People are smart and they use their common sense.”

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) provides a safety sheet to avoid heat illnesses (typically heat stroke or heat exhaustion). Beyond the hydration, rest and shade that Wright mentioned, a few other items can be factored in:

• Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty

• Keep an eye on coworkers

• Wear a hat and light-colored clothing

• Know where you’re working in case an emergency arises

In addition, employers, by law, must provide their outdoor workers with water, a place for shade and rest, training and an emergency plan.

“(Calaveras County employers) keep things pretty well in hand,” Wright said.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that an average of about 658 people die each year in the United States because of heat-related illnesses. The organization states that “very high body temperatures can damage the brain or other vital organs. In severe cases, the problem can progress to multiple organ system failure and death.”

Though the greatest people at risk for heat-related illnesses are people 65 and older and children 4 years old and younger, even young, healthy people can be afflicted by the heat if they are participating in strenuous physical work and other activities, according to the CDC. The same prevention techniques should be practiced.

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