Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety
IN THIS ISSUE: Heat Related Illness in Older Workers
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), workers who are exposed to extreme heat are at risk of heat stress, which can result in illness and injury. Heat stress can lead to heat rashes, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. Studies have found that people 60 years and older are among the most affected by extreme heat. This may be of greater concern in the future as the worker population ages and climate change leads an increase in the frequency and severity of climate extremes
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 percent of the worker population was 55 years in or older in 1990 and by 2010 it was 19.5 percent. By 2020, older worker population should be 25.2 percent of the workforce. Older workers do not adapt as well as younger workers to changes in temperature. They are more likely to have a medical condition that may compromise their ability to respond to heat. In addition, they may take medications that can affect their ability to control body temperature and their ability to sweat. As worker population continues to age, awareness of these potential concerns is critical.
OSHA, NIOSH, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) offer guidelines for dealing with worker exposure to heat. However, they do not offer specific recommendations for old workers. It is, however, generally recommended that older workers be given longer times to acclimatize and that they be monitored more frequently than younger employees.
- Establish a complete heat illness prevention and intervention program.
- Provide training about the hazards leading to heat stress and how to prevent them.
- Provide cool water to workers close to the work area. At least one pint of water per hour is needed to maintain normal body temperature in such circumstances.
- Modify work schedules and arrange frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks for workers new too the heat or those that have been away from work to adapt to working in the heat. Designate a responsible person to monitor conditions and protect workers who are at risk of heat stress.
- Consider protective clothing that provides cooling.
OSHA and NIOSH have developed a Heat Safety Tool App that is a useful resource for planning outdoor work activities based on how hot it feels throughout the day. It features real-time heat index and hourly forecasts, specific to your location, as well as occupational safety and health recommendations from OSHA and NIOSH. The ACGIH has a detailed section in their TLVs and BEIs book. These include Table 4 Guidelines for Limiting Heat Strain and Section 5 Heat Stress Management and Controls.
With hot weather, heat stress is a constant concern for employees who indoors and outdoor. Having a heat stress management program is essential. As part of that program, special attention should be paid to older workers because of their increased susceptibility to the effects of heat.
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