It’s Hot Out There! Heat Stress Prevention

Summer is here! Heat stress injuries can have very negative effects for the employer and employee.

Whether it is poor worker performance, an injury or fatality, if heat stress isn’t recognized and managed properly, it will cost both the employer and employee significantly through loss of staff and/or loss of revenue.

Heat stress is a signal that says the body is having difficulty maintaining its narrow temperature range. When the body gets hot, the heart pumps faster, blood is diverted from internal organs to the skin, breathing rate increases, and sweating increases, all in an attempt to transfer more heat to the outside air and cool the skin by the evaporation of sweat. If the body can’t keep up, then the person suffers effects ranging from heat cramps to heat exhaustion, and finally to heat stroke. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases.  As the body continues to store heat, the person begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink.

There are three major forms of heat illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat Cramps

Signs and symptoms of heat cramps usually include excess sweating, fatigue, thirst and cramps, usually in the stomach, arms or legs. Frequently they don’t occur until sometime later after work, at night, or when relaxing. Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. To prevent them, drink electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade during the day and try eating more fruits like bananas.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps. It occurs when the body’s internal air-conditioning system is overworked, but hasn’t completely shut down. The symtpoms of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness, nausea, impaired judgment, and cool moist skin.

Take Action

  • Rest in a cool, shaded area or air conditioned building.

  • Lie down with feet slightly elevated.

  • Loosen clothing and apply cool water to their body and fan them.

  • Drink water or electrolytes.

  • Have them checked by medical personnel.

Anyone with heat exhaustion should avoid strenuous activity for at least a day, and they should continue to drink water to replace lost body fluids.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the core temperature rises so high that the body’s normal cooling mechanism ceases to function. In effect, the brain gives up and stops doing the things it normally does to maintain body temperature at a constant level. Heat stroke is a life threatening illness with a high death rate. On the job, heat stroke is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack. Therefore it is very important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heat stroke. Heat stroke symptoms include a lack of sweating, rapid breathing, flushed skin, chills, high body temperature, confusion, and constricted pupils. Advance symptoms include seizure, convulsions, collapse and loss of consciousness.

Take Action

Call 911! The immediate steps to follow for a heat stroke victim while waiting for medical personnel to arrive include:

  • Move the victim to a cooler location.

  • Remove any outer clothing that would interfere with the free circulation of air around the victim’s body.

  • Apply cool water to the entire body surface of the victim. Use ice if necessary.

  • Vigorously fan the victim to increase the cooling effect of the water.

Heat Stress Prevention Tips:

Anyone can suffer a heat illness, but by taking a few simple precautions, they can be prevented.

  • Condition yourself for working in hot environments- start slowly then build up to more physical work. Allow your body to adjust over a few days.

  • Drink water frequently and moderately. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, by then, there’s a good chance you are already on your way to being dehydrated.

  • Take a break if you notice you are getting a headache or you start feeling overheated.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Many cases of heat exhaustion occur the day after a “night on the town”.

  • Eat lightly.

  • Utilize ventilation or fans in enclosed areas.

  • Wearing light-colored, cotton clothes and keeping your shirt on.

As the weather heats up this summer, remember to be aware of your body and take preventative action to minimize heat related injuries.

 

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