Take precautions to prevent heat-related illness

By Joanita MileyJuly 5, 2023

Take precautions to prevent heat-related illness
Coach gives players a break during softball practice on Redstone Arsenal June 6. People who are athletes are more at risk for heat injury during summer months. (Photo Credit: Jo Anita Miley) VIEW ORIGINAL

When summer temperatures start rising into the triple digits, heat safety can be a major concern both at home and in the workplace.

“The human body is normally able to regulate its temperature through sweating, until it is exposed to more heat than it can handle, “Rodney Shepherd, Garrison occupational health and safety specialist, said. “During hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating is not enough. Body temperature can rise to unsafe levels and cause a health crisis. You can suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”

Shepherd said individuals most at risk for heat injury include people who are ill with chronic health conditions or are on certain medications, the elderly, infants, and young children, athletes, and those who work in the heat.

But heat-related illnesses are preventable.

“It is important that everyone take it easy with outdoor activities in the heat. Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and watch your co-workers should they display any of them,” Shepherd said.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, weakness, mood changes such as irritability or confusion, upset stomach, vomiting, decreased or dark-colored urine, fainting or passing out or pale, clammy skin. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech; loss of consciousness; hot, dry skin or profuse sweating; seizures and extremely high body temperature. If treatment is delayed, heat stroke can be fatal.

Shepherd shared some precautionary steps you can take to avoid heat-related injury:

Monitor the weather. If you will be working outside, or you manage workers who will be outside, make sure you monitor the weather and heat index. Being aware of the conditions of the day allows you to best prepare for the heat.

Stay hydrated. Always have water on hand when outdoors. When working in the heat, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends drinking a liter of water over one hour, which equates to one cup every 15 minutes.

Take frequent breaks. It is important that you take time to rest and get out of the hot weather. Take frequent breaks either in the shade or an air-conditioned indoor area. Take breaks in shaded cool areas and conserve your energy to save heavy outdoor jobs for the coolest part of the day.

Take time to acclimatize. Your body will slowly build a tolerance to working in the heat. This process is called acclimatization. For new workers, start with 20% exposure on the first day and increase by, at most, 20% every day. Also, if there is an extreme change in temperature, all workers should start adjusting to the climate by cutting their time outside in half. Workers should then slowly increase workload over the next three days, so by day four, they are back at their regular work schedule.

Dress light. Wearing proper clothing is important. Depending on your outdoor work, if possible, wear lightweight and light-colored loose-fitting clothing. In the hot sun, a wide-brimmed hat will keep the head cool. Many outdoor workers are required to wear certain gear for protection. And while light clothing can protect against heat illness, only wear these items if they will not create a hazard in your workplace.

Protect your skin. Most people wear sunscreen to protect their skin from sunburn; however, sunscreen can also help protect you from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If you will be in direct sun, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher and follow package directions.

Watch what you eat and drink. Be cognizant of what you are putting into your body. Before work, eat smaller meals and avoid caffeine and alcohol. And if you are taking any medications, ask your health care provider if it is OK for you to work in the heat.

Use the buddy system. Work outside with someone else or partner up at a large worksite to ensure that everyone stays safe and can get quick help if showing signs of heat-related illness. If someone shows signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, call 911 and get medical help immediately. Remove the person from the hot area and take off their outer clothing. Place ice or a cold compress on their body until help arrives.