OSHA tips on keeping workers safe in heat wave

About 500 people die from heat-related illnesses every year, but there are ways to make sure your patients are not included in that tally. A list of heat-related precautions from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can help.

These are OSHA's top 10 tips for protecting workers in the heat:

1. Encourage workers to drink plenty of water, but don't add salt. They should drink at least one cup of water every 15 or 20 minutes, even if they don't feel thirsty. Workers should not drink alcohol, coffee, or tea because they can contribute to dehydration.

2. As much as possible, encourage employers to assign lighter workloads and allow - or even require - longer rest periods. Those steps are especially important in the first five to seven days of heat work, as the worker is acclimating to the conditions. Remember the acclimation starts all over again if the worker is away from the heat work for more than a couple of days.

3. Workers should wear light-colored, lightweight loose-fitting clothing. Clothing should be changed if it gets saturated with perspiration.

4. Ensure good ventilation in the workplace to increase evaporation and cooling. Stagnant air can induce heat-related illnesses.

5. Train first-aid workers to recognize and treat heat-related illness, and ensure workers know who is trained to provide first aid. Supervisors should be trained to detect the early signs of heat-related illness, and they must allow workers to interrupt their work when overheated.

6. Consider a worker's individual risk factors when assessing the safety of working in high heat. Obesity, lack of conditioning, pregnancy, and inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to heat-related illness.

7. Exercise special care when a worker has a medical condition or uses medication that can increase heat susceptibility. Heart conditions and low-sodium diets, for instance, can increase the risk.

8. Institute short but frequent work-rest cycles. Schedule heavy work for the cooler times of day.

9. Monitor the temperature, humidity, and workers' status at least hourly.

10. Learn to spot the symptoms of heat stroke - mental confusion, loss of consciousness, hot and dry skin, and a body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit or more.