Avoid heat injury with hydration, rest

By Tim Cherry, Belvoir EagleJuly 12, 2013

As the summer season marches on, chances are that the temperature will only increase.

Fort Belvoir community members exercising and working outdoors are encouraged to do so while getting the proper amount of rest, especially when the temperature rises above 90 degrees, according to Fort Belvoir Safety Office officials.

"The best way to prevent injury is to keep yourself hydrated and minimize your exposure to the heat," said Chris McCormick, Installation Safety Office acting director. "Stay hydrated and plan to conduct outdoor activities in the early morning when the temperature isn't as hot."

A black flag weather condition is in effect when the temperature reaches 90 degrees or higher, according to the Safety Office's heat stress card. In this category, only 10 minutes out of each hour should be spent engaging in strenuous activities, only 20 minutes should be spent performing moderate work and 50 minutes could be spent doing easy work. Strenuous work includes intense jogging and walking on hard surfaces at 3.5 mph with loads of 40 pounds or more. Moderate work includes performing calisthenics and easy work includes marksmanship training and light walking with no load. Community members should drink one quart of water per hour while performing any type of work while a black flag is raised.

The work/rest cycle applies to four additional flag categories: the white, green, yellow and red. There are no restrictions on the amount of easy work community members can perform under these conditions and they are encouraged to drink three-fourths to 1 quart of water per hour. Work restrictions for moderate and strenuous work vary from category to category.

The white flag indicates temperatures between 78 and 81.9 degrees and requires a 20-minute rest per hour during hard work. The green flag is in effect between 82 and 84.9 degrees. This flag allows for strenuous exercise outdoors with a 30-minute rest every half hour, while community members must rest 10 minutes during moderate work.

A yellow flag is raised when temperature reaches 85 to 87.9 degrees. While under a yellow flag, the same 30/30 work/rest rule as the green flag applies and community members must rest at least 20 minutes during moderate work.

A red flag is raised when the temperature reaches 88 degrees. While in this condition, a 40-minute rest should be taken during strenuous work and a 30-minute break should occur during moderate work.

"Watch the weather report and find out what the temperature is going to be before you even walk out of the house," said Bridget Smalls, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist. "This will tell what the heat advisory is and when the weather is in the danger zone."

Adhering to this work/rest cycle can help prevent injuries related to excessive heat exposure such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Preparation is also a big key to preventing injury, McCormick said. Soldiers and civilians planning outdoor training or an exercise regimen should develop a plan to handle the heat conditions. Plans should include gathering water to have ready the day of the event and ensuring the event location has plenty of shaded area.

"If you're training, you've got to pay close attention to the weather conditions and prepare for worst-case scenarios," McCormick said. "You must stay hydrated as well. Start hydrating yourself and your team days before the event occurs."

Smalls said another safety measure community members can take is to wear light clothing in layers so that they can subtract or add clothing as the temperature changes.

"Community members should frequently protect themselves from sunburn by covering up with lightweight clothing and using sunscreen," Smalls said.

The Fort Belvoir community should also pay close attention to pets, children and the elderly as it continues to experience high temperatures, Smalls said.

Parents and pet owners should never leave their children and animals unattended in vehicles because either can experience heat injury or even death within minutes. Smalls also encourages community members to routinely check on pets, children and the elderly to ensure they're hydrated and not overheated.

"Finding and using shade is very important when you're outside," Smalls said. "Find shade and stay out of the direct sunlight when you can."