June is National Safety Month. Keeping in line with the National Safety Council’s weekly safety topics, I’m going to talk a little bit about Hazard Recognition. After reading several articles on the topic, it really boils down to taking a few minutes to stop and take stock of your surroundings. Look around and ask the questions, “What might happen if…?” Like what, you say?

Sometimes it’s the simplest of things. What might happen if…

…I don’t clean up the water on the kitchen floor (even if I wasn’t the one who spilled it) and someone doesn’t see it as they walk in for lunch?

…I cruise down the hallway looking at my cell phone and someone comes around the corner with an armload of boxes?

…I don’t notify the shop foreman that the corner of the door mat between the shop and the office needs to be taped down?

Advisory board chairman of the National Safety Council Congress & Expo, Adam Levine, says, “It’s usually the most obvious things you miss. The things you walk past a thousand times and never realize they’re an issue.” So, wherever you work – in a metal fabrication shop or in a field office; if you make deliveries to a job site; if you’re the ticket taker at the local movie theatre – take a few minutes to really see what’s around you and then take the time to make it safe for everyone concerned.

Now that you know how to become aware of what’s around you and recognize potential hazards, let’s drill down some more and review a hazard that is
a) difficult to recognize; and
b) fairly common here in Florida.

I talked about this last year, but it’s worth reviewing. Heat exhaustion.

Summers here in Central Florida are notoriously hot and humid. We’re entering the rainy season when temperatures range from the upper 80s to the low 90s. The past week has been warmer than usual, with highs reaching the upper 90s. In conditions like this, it’s easy to downplay a co-worker’s irritability and loss of focus on a hot job site. Safety Director, Eric McAfee said, “It still sneaks up on you. We covered this topic onsite during our morning toolbox talk [this past] Wednesday. On Thursday, we had someone go down from the heat anyway.”

The symptoms, if ignored, can progress quickly to heat stroke. When the body loses the ability to regulate its core temperature, you are absolutely dealing with an emergency.

Death caused by heat stroke is preventable.

  • Schedule training sessions for all employees or, at the very least, distribute educational materials. Remember, those of us who work in the office should know how to help someone who’s been brought inside to cool down.
  • Provide shade tents, hats, neck shields, and cooling towels for those out in the field.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of water onsite and check in regularly with your crew to ensure that they’re drinking it! If a member of your team is feeling nauseated and doesn’t want to drink, they’re exhibiting symptoms of heat exhaustion.
  • Emphasize that pushing through the symptoms to keep up with everyone else, particularly for those unaccustomed to working in the heat, is neither required nor expected. Frequent water breaks, however, are.
  • Understand how heat and humidity affect the body and learn to recognize a body in distress, including your own.
  • Have a plan in place so you can act quickly.

If the messaging in this post seems a bit exaggerated, consider this article from The National Weather Service. Heat illness comes on so fast it can catch you completely off guard. “One more load” or “ten more minutes” is not worth your life. It’s just not.

You can find good tips and resources through OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign. Take a few minutes and check out this fact sheet from the program. Eric shared the PDF below with our field supervisors. Please use these resources and stay safe out there!

Heat Exhaustion Guide