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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

SWCOEH's Dr. William "Brett" Perkison discusses Heat Stress with Texas Public Radio

Dr. William “Brett” Perkison, MD, MPH, of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) at UTHealth School of Public Health spoke with Kim Krisberg of Texas Public Radio in September about the dangers of heat stress for employees and the challenges of making a safer work environment.
Before his current position as assistant professor, Dr. Perkison managed heat-stress prevention programs for a large oil and gas company. Heat stress, Dr. Perkison said, often presents very subtly, so people are unaware they’re suffering potentially life-threatening symptoms. An employee working alone can become confused and lose the ability to find help in time. Even if they survive, people with severe heat-related injuries can suffer kidney failure and irreversible damage to their sweat glands, making it difficult for them to tolerate heat again.
Dr. Perkison says there are basic tenets of heat-stress prevention, such as categorizing risk based on the heat index and activating appropriate interventions, such as buddy systems. The tactics are not highly technical — water, rest, shade, safety training — but managing all the moving parts can be.
“Oftentimes, what you see in occupational medicine is it’s not the big companies with lots of resources (associated with heat injuries), it’s contractors and subcontractors that do the hard manual jobs and have less resources and medical training,” Dr. Perkison said. “The adoption of heat standards at the federal, state or local levels is a critical component of protecting such workers going forward.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration makes the following recommendations to employers in high-risk industries:
·      Encourage workers to drink water every 15 minutes.
·      Make sure workers take frequent rest breaks in the shade.
·      Create an emergency plan to follow if a worker shows signs of heat-related illness.
·      Train workers about the dangers of heat. Let workers acclimatize, or build up a tolerance, to the heat.
Read the full article from Texas Public Radio.