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OSHA reminds workers of ways to stay safe in hot conditions

With summer just around the corner, those who work outdoors may already be looking for ways to stay cool when the sun beats down and the temperatures skyrocket. Even if you're accustomed to working in extreme conditions, it's important to take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion and other weather-related illnesses that could require a workers' compensation claim.

Maryland has already experienced some unseasonably warm weather this spring, and there's no telling what extremes we might see in the next several months. With that in mind, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun its second annual outreach program designed to educate outdoor workers about the dangers of working in the heat of summer. The three key words to remember, says Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, are water, rest and shade.

Thousands of workers suffer the effects of working under the sun, and they go well beyond sunburn. Heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, which can quickly lead to death if the affected worker isn't treated properly and immediately. OSHA officials say heat stroke has killed more than 30 workers per year in the United States since 2003.

It's important for both workers and their employers to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, which can include heat rash, cramps and exhaustion. Even if you're feeling fine yourself, keeping an eye out for these signs in your co-workers is a good idea. If you or someone on your crew is feeling or looking ill from working in the sun, the best thing to do is drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks in a cool area, out of the heat and sun. Workers most susceptible to heat illness include agriculture workers, roofers, landscapers, baggage handlers, utility workers and building, road and other construction workers.

Most outdoor laborers are under heavy pressure to complete projects on time, which can make taking rest and water breaks difficult. But considering the likelihood and seriousness of heat-related illness, it's important to develop a system that allows you and your co-workers to get the job done without risking your health and your lives.

Source: Fox News, "How to Beat the Heat if You Work Outdoors," Tracy Lopez, May 10, 2012

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