Are Your Plumbers Safe from Heat?

During the busy summer months, it’s important to keep workers hydrated and remind them about the dangers of heat stroke.
Are Your Plumbers Safe from Heat?
Workers should drink water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty.

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As the busy summer season begins to heat up, it’s important to keep your plumbers properly hydrated, rested and safe from the sun.

About 30 workers die from heat stroke each year and thousands more suffer its effects.

In the State of Washington, a 27-year-old technician died installing a waterline. He was new to the job and not yet acclimated to the hot weather.

Part of a four-man crew that was installing 12-inch PVC pipe, the technician began work about 8:30 a.m. and continued throughout the day. Temperatures ranged from 82 to 105 degrees at the job site, which was mostly exposed to direct sunlight.

The employer had provided drinking water for the workers, and the victim consumed nearly five bottles of water. About 3 p.m., he became ill and his employer suggested that he rest in the shade. About 15 minutes later, co-workers noticed the victim slumped over and unconscious. Paramedics transported the victim to the hospital, where he died six days later from complications related to heat stroke.

Just as outdoor sports teams at most levels now follow rules and procedures to help get players acclimated to the heat, OSHA launched its Heat Illness Prevention Campaign in 2011 to help protect workers and employers. While coaches have changed from the get-tough attitude of no water breaks to mandatory hydration and rest periods, it’s time for all employers to embrace a safer approach to heat safety.

Water, rest, shade

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe work environment, including a program to prevent heat-related illness and fatalities. OSHA recommends:

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade
    • ​Workers should drink water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty
    • Rest in the shade to cool down
    • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing
  • Acclimatize new and returning workers to the heat by gradually increasing workload and providing breaks
  • Train workers about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their prevention
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness

According to OSHA, the most susceptible workers are those who are not used to working in the heat. It recommends an altered work schedule on the first day of a heat wave or for those returning to work after more than a week off.

Protective measures

Below 91 degrees F (low risk)

  • Provide water
  • Ensure that adequate medical services are available
  • Plan ahead for times when heat index is higher, including worker heat safety training
  • Encourage workers to wear sunscreen
  • Acclimatize workers

If workers must wear heavy protective clothing, perform strenuous activity or work in the direct sun, additional precautions are recommended. Direct sun increases the heat index by about 15 degrees.

91 degrees F to 103 degrees F (moderate risk)

  • Remind workers to drink water often (about four cups/hour)
  • Review heat-related illness topics with workers
  • Schedule frequent breaks in a cool, shaded area
  • Acclimatize workers
  • Set up buddy system – watch workers for signs of heat-related illness

If workers must wear heavy protective clothing, perform strenuous activity, or work in the direct sun:

  • Schedule activities at a time when the heat index is lower
  • Develop work/rest schedules
  • Monitor workers closely

103 degrees F to 115 degrees F (high risk)

  • Alert workers of high risk
  • Actively encourage workers to drink plenty of water (about four cups/hour)
  • Limit physical exertion
  • Have a knowledgeable person at the work site who is well-informed about heat-related illness and able to determine appropriate work/rest schedules
  • Establish and enforce work/rest schedules
  • Adjust work activities (e.g., reschedule work, pace/rotate jobs)
  • Use cooling techniques
  • Watch/communicate with workers at all times

When possible, reschedule activities to a time when heat index is lower.

Above 115 degrees F (very high to extreme risk)

  • Reschedule nonessential activity to a day or time when the heat index is lower
  • Move essential work tasks to the coolest part of the work shift; consider earlier start times, split shifts, or evening and night shifts
  • Strenuous work tasks and those requiring the use of heavy or nonbreathable clothing or impermeable chemical protective clothing should not be conducted

If you must work:

  • Alert workers of extreme heat hazards
  • Establish water drinking schedule (about four cups/hour)
  • Develop and enforce work/rest schedules
  • Conduct physiological monitoring (e.g., pulse, temperature, etc.)
  • Stop work if essential control methods are inadequate or unavailable

Heat stress symptoms:

  • Heat Exhaustion: Headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. It can turn into heat stroke quickly if immediate action is not taken.
  • Heat Stroke: Confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and red, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. Requires immediate medical attention.

What to do when a worker is ill from the heat:

  • Call a supervisor for help. If the supervisor is not available, call 911
  • Have someone stay with the worker until help arrives
  • Move the worker to a cooler/shaded area
  • Remove outer clothing
  • Fan and mist the worker with water; apply ice (ice bags or ice towels)
  • Provide cool drinking water, if able to drink

IF THE WORKER IS NOT ALERT or seems confused, it may be heat stroke. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY and apply ice as quickly as possible.


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