With the start of summer and increased temperatures, it is important to know what you can do to reduce the risk of a heat related illness and what to do if one occurs. Heat related illnesses are progressive conditions caused by overexposure to heat. If they are recognized in the early stages, they can usually be reversed. If they are not caught early, they may progress to life threatening conditions.
Measures to Prevent Heat Stress
- Engineering controls include general ventilation, personal cooling devices or protective clothing.
- Work practice controls include drinking plenty of water. It is recommended that you drink one glass of water (8 ounces) every 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the heat and humidity.
- Alternating work and rest periods with more rest periods in cool areas can help workers avoid heat stress. If possible heavy work should be scheduled during the cooler part of the day.
- Acclimatization to the heat through short exposures followed by longer periods of work in the hot environment can reduce heat stress.
- Read medication labels to know how they cause the body to react to the sun and heat.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can increase the effects of heat.
- Employees shall be educated so they are aware of the need to replace fluids and salt lost through sweat and can recognize dehydration, exhaustion, fainting, heat cramps, salt deficiency, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Types of Heat Illness
Heat Cramps: Severe muscle spasms that often begin suddenly in the hands, calves or feet. Painful and disabling. The muscles become hard, tense and difficult to relax. They are caused by salt depletion as sweat losses are replaced by water alone. Heat cramps result from over exertion and heavy sweating.
Heat Exhaustion: Causes excessive fluid loss from heavy sweating, leading to increased fatigue, weakness, anxiety, drenching sweats, low blood pressure, faintness and sometimes collapse. Heat exhaustion results from prolonged exposure to extreme heat for many hours. The over heating is due to the electrolytic fluid loss that reduces blood volume, which lowers blood pressure and the pulse.
Heat Stroke: A life threatening condition caused by over exertion and over exposure to extreme heat environments. Heat stroke is imminent when the core body temperature approaches 106 F. Any higher may result in coma or even death. The symptoms are dizziness, weakness, emotional instability, nausea/vomiting, confusion, delirium, blurred vision, convulsions, collapse and unconsciousness. The skin is flushed, hot to the touch, and at first may be covered with sweat that soon dries. Be aware of these warning signs.
First Aid Measures
Heat Cramps: Try eating salty foods such as cracker or peanuts.
Heat Stroke: Move the victim to a cool place. Remove heavy clothing; light clothing can be left in place.
Immediately cool the victim by any available means. This can be accomplished by placing ice packs at areas with abundant blood supply (neck, armpits, and groin). Wet towels or sheets are also effective. The cloths should be kept wet with cool water. Continue to cool the victim until their temperature drops to 102 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent hyperthermia. Keep the victim’s head and shoulders slightly elevated. Seek medical attention immediately. All heat stroke victims need hospitalization. Care for seizures if they occur. Do not use aspirin or acetaminophen.
Heat exhaustion: Move the victim to a cool place. Keep the victim lying down with legs straight and elevated 8 to 12 inches. Cool the victim by applying cold packs or wet towels or cloths. Fan the victim. Give the victim cold water if he or she is fully conscious. If no improvement is noted within 30 minutes, seek medical attention.
If any employee goes home due to what may be a heat related illness or is displaying symptoms of a heat related illness, notify the Safety Department immediately.