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Heat Index App: New Tool to Prevent Heat-Related Illness and Injury

This summer has been one of the hottest summers on record. In New York City, heat-related illness can be very serious for those who work outdoors. Heat-related illness can lead to construction accidents. Humidity also plays a contributing role to heat-related illness for those who work outside.

Why Does Humidity Matter?

Both air temperature and humidity affect how hot you feel while working outdoors. The "heat index" takes both temperature and humidity into account. The higher the heat index, the hotter you feel, because sweat does not evaporate as quickly when the air is moist. Since evaporation of sweat from the skin is how we stay cool on a hot day, high humidity reduces our natural cooling potential and we feel hotter. The heat index is a better measure for estimating the risk to construction workers, landscapers and roofers, who suffer the highest rate of heat-related illness.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a free mobile application that enables workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work site. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis stated, "heat-related illnesses are preventable. This new app is just one way the Labor Department is getting that message out."

How Does the App Work?

The app combines heat index data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with the user's location to determine necessary protective measures. Depending on the various hazardous conditions present at the job location, the new app gives workers or supervisors practical information about precautions that should be taken, such as drinking fluids, taking rest breaks and adjusting work operations.

The application also includes signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Several common heat-related illnesses are:

  • Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions that generally affect the calves, quadriceps and abdominals.
  • Heat Exhaustion: With heat exhaustion, the body temperature may rise and you may experience nausea, vomiting, weakness and cold, clammy skin. If untreated, this can lead to heatstroke.
  • Heatstroke: Heatstroke is a life threatening emergency where your body stops sweating and your body is unable to cool itself. You may develop confusion or irritability. Immediate medical attention is necessary at this point to prevent brain damage, organ failure or even death.

Workers new to outdoor employment have the highest risk for heat-related illness. Thus, the app also provides information for supervisors on how to gradually increase the workload for new workers.

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