On a summer afternoon in the southern U.S., a forest technician had finished painting a streamside management zone line and walked back to his pickup truck. It was a hot, humid day with a heat index reaching 106 degrees by mid- to late afternoon.
The forest technician was in his 50s and was experienced and properly trained for his job. He was wearing sturdy work boots, a high-visibility vest and snake leggings. He also had a SPOT device, mobile phone and “Southern Linc” radio access.
Unsafe Act AND CONDITION:
He started painting the SMZ line in the early afternoon and finished at approximately 3 p.m. during the heat of the day. He probably did not realize he was very close to suffering from heat exhaustion.
As he walked back to his truck, he met with another co-worker at the truck. The co-worker handed him a bottle of water. The technician drank most of the water and then walked around to the tailgate of the truck to sit down and rest.
He leaned against the truck but lost his balance and fell to the ground, exhausted. The co-worker immediately helped him inside the truck to cool him off with the air conditioner.
Recommendations for Correction:
- On days when it is expected to be extremely hot, start work earlier in the day and plan to end field work before the peak afternoon heat. Don’t overdo it on a hot day.
- Drink plenty of fluids (but avoid caffeine and alcohol). Make sure to properly hydrate before beginning work and maintain that hydration as work progresses.
- If working alone, bring along a mobile phone or other means of communication to others.
- Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, which could include faintness or dizziness; nausea or vomiting; heavy sweating, often accompanied by cold, clammy skin; weak, rapid pulse; pale or flushed face; muscle cramps; headache, weakness or fatigue. (Source: mayoclinic.org.)
- Learn the first aid for heat exhaustion: Drinking fluids, removing tight or unnecessary clothing, taking a cool shower or bath and applying other cooling measures such as fans, iced towels and air conditioning.
- Recognize the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms. (Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke victims typically show red/hot/dry skin and are not sweating.) Heat stroke is much more serious and life-threatening.
FRA Southwide Safety Committee;
Rick Meyer, Appalachian/Southwide Region Manager