Myra Piper, CIC
The summer months bring with them elevated temperatures, high humidity and an increased potential for heat-related illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that excessive heat exposure causes an average of more than 200 deaths per year. With the extreme heat the majority of the country has experienced the last several weeks, it’s more important than ever to educate your employees on the dangers of heat-related illness.
Heat exhaustion includes a spectrum of conditions with minor symptoms, such as prickly heat or heat rash, and can progress to heat cramps and heat stroke — a life-threatening medical condition. When a person works in a hot environment and sweating cannot dissipate enough heat, heat-related illness is bound to happen. The loss of about 1% of body water through sweating can be tolerated without serious effect. When sweat loss exceeds this amount, serious consequences of dehydration can arise.
There are several symptoms that workers should be aware of when working in extreme heat:
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Reduced urination
- Nausea and/or vomiting
What causes heat-related illness?
As dehydration increases from the loss of body water, lightheadedness and fainting can also occur. If any of these symptoms are present, it’s imperative that the worker take a break (out of the heat) and drink plenty of water or electrolyte replacement solutions. If nausea, vomiting or severe muscle cramps are present, the person should seek medical attention.
In the event of seizure or if the person is acting confused or disoriented, emergency medical services should be contacted immediately as this is likely heat stroke. This condition needs to be treated as a true medical emergency requiring immediate professional medical attention. If an employee has hot, dry skin or is unconscious, call 911. If not treated rapidly, heat stroke can lead to death.
What are some tips for staying safe in high temps?
- Learn the signs and symptoms of heat-induced illnesses and what to do in the event of an emergency.
- Perform the heaviest work in the coolest part of the day and slow the pace of work.
- Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
- Take frequent short breaks in cool shaded areas.
- Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
- Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages, which make the body lose water.
- Dress in light-colored, lightweight clothing.
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