Hundreds of people die and thousands suffer illnesses each year from exposure to natural heat. In addition to athletes, the elderly and young children, those most at risk include individuals who work outdoors.
Heat-related illness can be a concern in any region of the country and during any time of year. Causes include:
- Air temperature that exceeds body temperature
- High humidity
- Wearing heavy gear or protective clothing
Heat Illness is Preventable
The best way to handle heat stress is to avoid it. Taking a few precautions can make working in the heat less dangerous:
- Avoid direct sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Be fully hydrated before starting work and drink water throughout the day
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against overexposure to UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 15
- Wear a hat
- Wear sunglasses; 99% UV blocking are the best
- Wear light, cotton clothing
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Don't eat a heavy meal before working outside
- Take frequent breaks in an air conditioned shelter
- Check the news for extreme heat alerts
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on how to stay cool.
Know the Signs
If heat stress does affect an individual, workers who are trained to identify early symptoms, like muscle cramping or rash, can take action before symptoms turn deadly.
Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and can lead to death if not treated immediately; symptoms include high body temperature, lack of sweating, rapid pulse, hot and red skin, confusion and unconsciousness. Call 911 immediately. Cool the person by immersing in cool water, applying ice to the neck and groin, or covering with wet towels.
Heat Exhaustion is caused when the body loses too much water and salt. Look for weakness, dizziness, fainting, clammy skin, nausea or vomiting, and a rapid, weak pulse. Provide water or a sports drink (if the victim is not vomiting), have them lie down, cool them with ice or a fan, and seek medical help.
OSHA has more on different types of heat illnesses and how to react.
What if You Have to Wear Protective Gear?
Construction workers, roofers, road crew, firefighters and others are required to wear personal protective equipment at all times on the job. While it may be tempting to remove those gloves, goggles, reflective vests and hard hats in hot weather, don't.
This fact sheet from OSHA explains why PPE is so important.
While the protection PPE provides is non-negotiable,
this PowerPoint presentation from the CDC advises workers to:
- Establish provisions for a work/rest regimen so employee exposure to high temperatures is decreased
- Develop a heat stress training program for employees
- Identify health conditions aggravated by high heat
- Develop an acclimation program for new employees
- Where possible, purchase PPE in a lightweight, breathable fabric
Bring Safety Home
On average, 37 children die in hot cars every year in the United States. Incidents spike between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when as many as three children per week die in hot cars. Before you get caught up in the many activities of summer, please take some time to learn about child heatstroke and how to
prevent these senseless deaths.