Masks & Heat Illness Awareness
As we are in the midst of the hottest week of the summer thus far in 2020, it’s important to review masks and heat illness. Especially given the increase in mask-wearing on the job due to current worker requirements for COVID-related safety. It’s no surprise that construction workers are at risk of death, injuries, illness, and reduced productivity resulting from heat exposure on the job.
Between 1992 and 2016, 285 construction workers died from heat-related causes, more than a third of all U.S. occupational deaths from heat exposure.
The rising temperatures of summer also mean a rising potential for heat-related illnesses. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, this summer will feature a new heat-related risk factor: face coverings. Historically, one the primary way to monitor for heat-related illness is the “buddy system.” When social distancing and wearing a face covering are required, it makes it more difficult to see the signs of heat-related illness. Workers may need to ask each other questions about how they are feeling during the workday to assess for signs of heat-related illness among their co-workers. Carry extra dry masks to take off and replace sweaty ones. Know that it will be harder to breathe and exhale which helps your body release heat.
The following are some frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding COVID and hot weather. Click here to read more in-depth version.
Q: When can employees remove their mask?
A: Employees may remove their cloth face covering when working alone; or to drink water or eat lunch – while staying at least six feet away from others. Stay masked when responding to or monitoring an employee with symptoms of heat illness; and keep the symptomatic employee masked until they are settled in a cool area at least six feet away from others. Break or cooling areas need to be large enough so unmasked employees can easily stay at six feet from others while they drink.
Q: How can work practices change to prevent heat illness?
A: Allow additional time for breaks, and encourage workers to reduce their physical exertion to prevent overheating and to allow workers to acclimate to the heat. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.
Q: Heat stress and COVID-19 symptoms are very similar. How would this be handled?
A: Yes, these symptoms should be treated as heat stress immediately. Take the worker to a cool shady area and have them drink water and recover. While assisting the worker, ensure adequate precautions are maintained for COVID-19 and notify the COVID-19 site supervisor. If their symptoms worsen, or do not improve, additional follow up would be needed.
What are the symptoms of heat illness? Check out this helpful visual on heat exhaustion or heat stroke?