Heat stress occurs when our body is unable to cool itself down and becomes overheated. This heat can be generated internally through muscle use or externally by the environment.
The body has three natural mechanisms for dealing with heat: Breathing, sweating and changing its blood flow. Sometimes these defense mechanisms are not enough, and the body’s temperature continues to rise. As heat increases, the body’s temperature and heart rate rises, and the body becomes susceptible to heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, fainting, or a potentially fatal heat stroke.
Many occupations require workers to be exposed to environments of high heat in both indoor and outdoor settings. Unfortunately, “[e]very year thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some are fatally injured (osha.gov)”.
Working in hot conditions leave workers at risk to heat related illness and cause them to be slower and less productive. Therefore, preventing heat stress will protect workers health, improve their safety and increase their productivity!
Take precautions, like the following, to reduce the chances of severe heat-related illnesses: -Drink plenty of water and electrolytes. -It is recommended to drink a ½ quart of water per hour (Or 1 Pint per hour, or 2 cups per hour, or 16 Fl oz per hour) -Sip water many times throughout the day (every 15 mins), rather than gulp down lots of liquids fewer times per day.
- -Avoid beverages that contain alcohol, soda, caffeine or other diuretics
- -Wear loose-fitting lightweight, light-colored clothing
- -Wear headgear that provides shade
- -Try to eat fewer warm foods and eat cooler foods instead (like salads, yogurts, and sandwiches)
- -Take 10-15 minute breaks every 2 hours
- -Use cooling fans or other personal cooling devices, such as cooling vests
- -Use technology like HyperKewl (http://www.techniche-intl.com/technologies/hyperkewl/) in conditions with high airflow and lower humidity
- -Use Technology like CoolPax (http://www.techniche-intl.com/technologies/coolpax/) in conditions with high humidity, low to no airflow, and under protective gear (PPE) such as welding suits.
What Employers can do to help:
- -Provide cold beverages (water and/or sports drinks)
- -Provide rest breaks and water breaks in cool areas
- -Provide heat stress training to employees and supervisors. Including information about prevention, symptoms and what to do in the event of an emergency
- -Provide protective attire, such as cooling vests
- -Provide technology like HyperKewl (http://www.techniche-intl.com/technologies/hyperkewl/) in conditions with high airflow and lower humidity
- -Provide Technology like CoolPax (http://www.techniche-intl.com/technologies/coolpax/) in conditions with high humidity, low to no airflow, and under protective gear (PPE) such as welding suits.
- -When possible, provide fans or other means to circulate airflow
- -When possible schedule work when the temperature is cooler (i.e. Early mornings)
- -Be sure to allow workers to take 10-15 minute breaks every two hours
- -Acclimatization: start new workers, that are not used to working in the heat, at 50% of the normal workload and time exposed to the heat for their first day, and gradually build up to 100% by the fifth day.
If all attempts fail at preventing Heat-related illnesses, here is a list of the most common signs and symptoms and what to do if a worker becomes a victim:
Heat stroke- occurs when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating mechanism fails and the body can no longer dispel excess heat. Heat stroke may result in permanent disability or death if not treated immediately. Heatstroke is fatal in 80% of cases.
Common Signs and Symptoms include: Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, Seizures, hot dry skin.
What to do:
- -Call 911 for emergency care (Stay with the victim until care arrives).
- -Move victim to a shaded or cool area
- -Remove outer clothing or soak the clothing in cool water
- -Place cold clothes on head, neck, armpits and groin area
- -Circulate the air around the victim
- -Do Not give the victim fluids
- -If the victim is unconscious, lay them on their side and clear their airway
Heat cramps- Painful muscle spasms that occur when the body is depleted of salt and moisture.
Common Signs and Symptoms include: Muscle cramps, pain, or spasms. (Most commonly in the abdomen arms or legs.) These can occur during or after work.
What to do:
- -Stop the activity immediately
- -Move victim to a cool place
- -The victim should drink water and a snack (Preferably a carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquid) every 15 to 20 minutes.
- -Rest several hours before returning to activity
- -Medical attention is needed if the victim has heart problems or is on a low sodium diet, or if cramps continue after 1 hour.
Heat Syncope/Fainting- an episode of dizziness usually occurring with a prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Most common in those that are not used to working in warm conditions.
Common Signs and Symptoms include: Brief loss of consciousness, dizziness, light-headedness, sweaty skin with normal body temperature, and no signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion
What to do:
- -Sit or lie victim down in a cool place
- -If completely conscious, the victim should slowly drink water, clear juice or an electrolyte drink (Sports drink)
- -Medical attention may be necessary if symptoms persist after lying down
Heat rash- occurs when the skin is irritated by excessive sweating. Most commonly occurring in hot and humid environments where sweat is unable to evaporate easily. The rash could cover a large area and could get infected, both of which will cause discomfort.
Common Signs and Symptoms include: Irritation or itching, appears as red or pink bumps or clusters or small blisters.
What to do:
- -Keep the rash area clean and dry
- -Move victim to a cooler less humid environment
- -Unscented talcum powder may help symptoms
- -Avoid creams and lotions, they may keep the skin warm and moist causing symptoms to worsen
Heat exhaustion- Occurs when the body loses too much water and salt, usually due to excessive sweating and not consuming enough fluids. (Most commonly occurs in high temperatures with high humidity and strenuous activities).
Common Signs and Symptoms include: Excessive sweat, weakness or fatigue, pale clammy skin (Sometimes flushed), headache, nausea, dizziness, irritability, thirst elevated body temperature.
What to do:
- -Move the victim to a cooler environment
- -If fully conscious, have the victim drink an electrolyte solution (sports drink) and avoid caffeine
- -Cool the victim with cool water or cold compress.
- -Circulate air around the victim
- -Seek medical attention if vomiting or fainting occurs, or if symptoms persist for more than 30 minutes
References: “CDC - Heat Stress - Heat Related Illness - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 June 2018, www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/heatrelillness.html.
Department of Health & Human Services. “Heat Stress and Heat-Related Illness.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Nov. 2015, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/heat-stress-and-heat-related-illness.
Flouris, Andreas D, et al. “Workers’ Health and Productivity under Occupational Heat Strain: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The Lancet Planetary Health, Elsevier, 4 Dec. 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542519618302377.
“Heat Stress Facts.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, ehs.princeton.edu/workplace-construction/occupational-health/heat-cold-stress/heat-stress-facts.
“Heat Stress.” NASD, nasdonline.org/137/d001702/heat-stress.html.
“Understanding the Dangers of Heat Stress.” Safety+Health Magazine, Safety+Health Magazine, 25 June 2017, www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/15818-understanding-the-dangers-of-heat-stress.
“UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/.
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