The mercury is rising and people who work outdoors are at an increased risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Risk of heat related illnesses peaks when temperatures reach 95o F with humidity over 60%. Symptoms can range in severity from mild heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a Heat Illness Prevention Campaign to minimize the casualties of this 100% preventable condition.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency!
If an individual shows signs of heat stroke, seek professional medical treatment immediately! Call 911 or your site designated emergency number.
What is Heat Related Illness?
Heat illness is a result of the body not cooling itself properly. It usually occurs in the form of heat exhaustion, or the more severe heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion often begins suddenly, after excessive heavy work, heavy perspiration and inadequate fluid intake. Symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, weakness, irritability, confusion, nausea, vomiting, pale/clammy skin, ashen appearance, decreased or dark-colored urine, fainting, bizarre behavior, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, hot red sweaty skin, and/or fever less than 1040 F.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke may include dry, pale skin with NO sweating (distinct absence of sweating), hot, red, flushed dry skin that looks like sunburn, confusion, mood changes, seizures, fits, inability to think straight, unconsciousness, high body temperature, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, and/or constricted pupils
Anyone working in extremely hot and/or humid conditions is susceptible to heat related illness, but especially those exerting themselves by performing heavy labor while wearing heavy clothing and equipment.
OSHA advocates a simple three-point plan for avoiding heat illness: Water, Rest, and Shade.
- Drink water frequently and moderately. Thirst cannot be relied on as the need for water; instead, water should be taken every 15 to 20 minutes in hot environments. Increase fluid intake to approximately 1-2 quarts per hour during high temperatures especially when over 100o F.
- Cover Up. Wear light-colored, 100% cotton clothing and keep your shirt on. Do not forget to use sunscreen!
- Follow a strict break / rest schedule.
- Consider a summer schedule with strenuous jobs performed during the cooler times of the day.
- Work in shaded areas when possible.
- Ensure you have a way to call for help, i.e. mobile phone, 2-ways radios, etc.
- Break in new workers gradually. The body needs time to adjust to hot environments, usually 1-2 weeks. This adaptation to heat is quickly lost so workers just back from extended vacation will need an adjustment period too.
Employers should educate workers on the importance of these three steps and incorporate them into regular meetings.
OSHA also recommends employers closely monitor the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service Heat Index. The index is a table that combines air temperature and relative humidity into a “felt” temperature value. As the index number increases, so does the risk of heat illness to workers.
If you work outdoors during the warmer months, you are at risk for heat illness. Drink plenty of water, take rest breaks, and grab some shade whenever possible.