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Preventing and Responding to Heat Illness

Effective Communication

When working in warm or hot weather an effective communication system is a critical part of your program to be successful in preventing heat illness. This is because as temperatures increase and other environmental factors change throughout the workday, employees’ physical and/or mental state can rapidly change into a serious medical condition. Therefore it is important that you stay alert to the weather and with employees input from the field use this information to quickly make the proper adjustments in your work practices and activities, or summon emergency response personnel if necessary. The goal is to make appropriate adjustments in work practices and activities before problems arise or become serious or summon help if it is needed. In order to do this you need to implement an effective communication system to contact employees and supervisors in the workplace.

Some "tools" for effective real time communication in remote locations include the use of cell phones, walkie-talkies, two way radios, satellite phones, and other devices. Employees and supervisors need to be fully trained on how to use your communication system to prevent heat illness.

SBest Practices

During warm or hot weather and high heat it is necessary for supervisors and employees to be attentive to each other and communicate on a frequent basis about how they are feeling. It is important to encourage employees not to discount any discomfort or symptoms they are experiencing and to report these problems immediately to their supervisor and coworkers. Employees and supervisors should be fully trained on the prevention of heat illness.

Using an effective communication system allows employees to report to supervisors, co-workers or other designated persons how they are feeling on a real time basis. Some practical suggestions include:

  • Designate a person(s) to closely monitor and frequently report on employees’ physical and mental condition.
     
  • Using a "buddy system" so that supervisors or a designated person(s) and coworkers can watch each other closely for discomfort or symptoms of heat illness. Are employees looking and acting normal throughout the work shift?

    People working outdoors in the heat

     

  • Accounting for the whereabouts of your crew at appropriate intervals throughout the work shift and at the end of the work shift (e.g., keep a log of employees on your work crews including their names, supervisors, work locations, and hours worked on a given day, etc.)

    People working outdoors in the heat

     

  • Ensuring that employees who work alone have a special system to monitor them closely by having them “check-in” periodically and account for their whereabouts (e.g., procedures to follow and a reliable means of communication for employees and supervisors to use)
  • Holding short, frequent meetings (e.g., before and during work)
  • Having frequent "check-ins" by the "designated person(s)" and supervisors

Warning

Remember that during high heat, heat illness can develop even faster and effective communication becomes even more important (see High Heat Procedures).