Workers that are required to work in hot environments for long periods of time are at risk of suffering heat illness. Heat illness occurs when the body is unable to maintain normal temperature in hot conditions. Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related health issue, and if left untreated can lead to death. Heat stroke happens when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and body temperature rises to critical levels (above 104f). Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. Workers with heat stoke will have a very high body temperature and may stop sweating. Immediate medical help is needed if heat stroke occurs, Call 911!
Other heat illnesses that can occur are more common and less severe and include:
- Heat Exhaustion – headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness , irritability, confusion, thirst. Heavy sweating and body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat Cramps – muscle pains usually caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating.
- Heat Rash – Caused by sweating and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Appears on neck, upper chest, groin, and elbow creases.
Factors that may contribute to heat illness include:
- High temperature and humidity , low fluid consumption, direct sun exposure (with no shade) or extreme heat, limited air movement (no breeze or wind), physical exertion, and use of bulky protective clothing and equipment.
Establishing a heat illness prevention program is an important step to avoid heat related issues for workers. Part of the program should include training about the hazards of heat health problems and how to prevent them. Other ways to prevent heat illness include providing cool water to workers, modifying work schedules to include frequent water breaks in cooler areas, acclimating workers to the high heat environment, and designating a responsible person to monitor conditions and protect workers from heat stress. Other ways workers can protect themselves include:
- Using a buddy system
- Block out direct sun light or other heat sources
- Drink plenty of fluids, water every 15 minutes
- Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages
- Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes
If a worker becomes ill from overheating and shows signs of heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke it is important to call a supervisor and/or 911. Move the worker to a cooler/shaded area and have someone stay with them until help arrives. Remove as much clothing as possible and apply cool water to the worker. Circulate the air and use ice packs if possible.
How does the heat factor in to your workday? Has anyone ever witnessed a heat stroke? If so, what was it like?