It’s Time to Think about Heat Illness

After experiencing a heat wave for the past week, I was thinking about Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Standard.  I’m confident our readers are well aware of the standard and the need for shade, water and rest.  Unquestionably these are very important elements of a successful heat illness prevention program.  However, not discussed in much detail are other issues that may impact one’s ability to cope with heat.  For example, the use of therapeutic drugs; many prescribed medicines can interfere with one’s ability to regulate their body for heat exposure.  Many drugs affect the central nervous system, or cardiovascular system and can affect an individual’s heat tolerance.  Don’t overlook caffeine use either. Some studies seem to indicate that caffeine (whether in a hot or cold drink) use may adversely affect heat tolerance as well.  Caffeine is a diuretic and is also commonly found in many medications.  Of course the use of alcoholic beverages or other social drugs can also have a dramatic impact on one’s ability to tolerate heat.  I have seen cases where individuals have had a ‘few beers’ in the evening which has greatly impacted their ability to work in a hot environment the following day.  Lastly, it is well established that obesity can predispose one to heat disorders.   NIOSH reports that “heat disorders occur 3.5 times more frequently in the obese than lean individuals.” It is clear that carrying around the extra pounds will require greater energy for a given task.  This additional energy can increase one’s internal body temperature.  Bottom line is for employers to consider these other factors when developing a heat illness prevention program and when monitoring their workers.  Employers can provide all of the water, shade and rest they want, but a worker that is not fit, or on drugs (therapeutic or recreational) can have a dramatic impact on their ability to work safely in a hot environment.