It is that time of year. The days are longer and the temperatures are warming up. Summer is right around the corner. Shedding layers of clothing and exposing our bodies to the sun and warmer temperatures usually also means working longer hours. Our bodies are like a machine, the hotter the body gets without rest and nourishment, the increased chances of a breakdown. Machine parts can be replaced. Vital body parts like brain and heart cannot. Outdoor workers are susceptible to experience a heat-related illness. Over the past ten years, an average of 26 deaths and 2,810 heat-related illnesses yearly. In 2017, 87 people died in the U.S from exposure to excessive heat. Typically, the warmest parts of the day are from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM with 3:00 PM usually being the warmest.
Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are muscle spasms that usually affect the legs or abdominal muscles, often after physical activity. Excessive sweating reduces salt levels in the body, which can lead to heat cramp(s). Symptoms include: Excessive Sweating and Pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is when the body loses an excessive amount of salt and water, heat exhaustion can set in. People who work outdoors and athletes are particularly susceptible. Symptoms are similar to the flu.
- Profuse Sweating
- Headache & Fatigue
- Clammy or pale skin
- Rapid pulse & elevated body temperature
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most severe of the heat-related illnesses. Heat stroke usually occurs when the body loses its ability to cool down due to severe dehydration and cannot produce sweat. The body’s core temperature is above 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Flushed skin that is hot to the touch
- Rapid breathing
- Headache, dizziness, & confusion
- Clammy or pale skin
- Individual stops sweating
- Possible convulsions or unresponsiveness
To Prevent Heat Illness: There are precautions to take when temperatures are high and tasks involve physical work.
- Schedule strenuous work for early in the morning or later in the day. Allow the body time to acclimate to the temperatures.
- Consider the hazards leading to heat stress and how to prevent them during the Toolbox Talk.
- Have cool water close to the work area. At least one pint of water per hour is needed.
- If you notice that your urine is deep yellow to brown in color, you are dehydrated and need to drink more water.
- Do not drink excessive amounts of electrolytes (i.e. Gatorade, Powerade, Sqwincher, etc.) Remember, one-part electrolytes, three parts water.
- Keep a careful eye on each other and to watch for early signs of heat stress.
- Stay away from the caffeine. Drink water often and BEFORE you are thirsty. Drink water every 15 minutes. Bring a co-worker a bottle of water.
- Change your eating habits. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Stay away from the heavy meals at lunchtime.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
What to Do When Someone Experiences a Heat-Related Injury/Illness
- Call a supervisor and others for help. Have someone stay with the worker until help arrives.
- Move the person to a cooler/shaded area. Get permission to remove or loosen outer clothing.
- Fan and mist the worker with water; apply ice packs or cool towels.
- Do not try to cool the person too quickly. You could potentially send their body into shock.
- Provide cool drinking water. Have them sip the water. Ice cold water could send the person into shock.
If the person is not alert or is unconscious, this may be a heat stroke. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY, move to shade, loosen clothing, and apply ice packs or wet towels to the armpits, wrist, ankles and groin areas as soon as possible
“The thing with heat is, no matter how cold you are, or how much you need warmth, heat always, eventually, becomes too much.”
Victoria Aveyard (Novelist)