Since our summer months have started out hotter than normal, we need to revisit how to beat the heat when working in or near triple digit temperatures. When working in hot conditions, this puts your body under a lot of stress. Physical activity stresses the body even more. When heat is combined with physical activity, loss of fluids, fatigue, and other conditions can lead to a number of heat-related illnesses and injuries. Death is even possible. June’s Safety Bulletin discusses ways to prevent heat stress & how to recognize the symptoms of heat stress conditions.
Warm weather increases the number of heat-stress injuries and illnesses, but heat stress can occur any time the temperature increases. Even if the weather is cool, you may work in warm areas, indoors or out.
The main factors that are involved in causing heat stress include:
· temperature & humidity.
· movement of air & radiant temperature of the surroundings.
· clothing & physical activity.
Adjusting to these factors and/or controlling them may reduce the chance of heat stress. Your body can adjust to working in a warm environment through a process known as “acclimatization”. Check with your company’s safety people for the exact way to properly acclimatize yourself. Even if you’re already used to working in the heat, any change in hot conditions can stress your body even more.
Engineering controls implemented to reduce the possibility of heat stress include:
· control the heat source through use of insulation and reflective barriers.
· exhaust hot air or steam away from the work area.
· use of air-conditioning & use of air-conditioned rest areas.
· use of fans to circulate the air.
Administrative controls to prevent heat stress injuries include:
· increase frequency and duration of rest breaks.
· schedule tasks to avoid physical activity during the hottest parts of the day.
· provide cool water or electrolyte-replacement drink & encourage consumption.
· use additional jobsite workers or slow the pace of the work.
· review the signs and symptoms of heat stress with workforce.
There are several types of heat stress injuries. They rank from not very serious to life-threatening situations. Knowing the different types is important. The serious heat stress conditions can cause the victim to become disoriented and unaware of his/her condition. People who are overweight, physically unfit, suffer from heart conditions, drink too much alcohol or are not acclimated to the temperature are at greater risk of heat stress and should seek and follow medical advice.
The major heat stress injuries and illnesses are described here:
Heat Rash is caused by a hot, humid environment and plugged sweat glands. It is a bumpy red rash which itches severely. It is not life-threatening but is very annoying.
Heat Cramps are painful muscle cramps caused by a loss of body salt through excessive sweating. To help prevent heat cramps, drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free fluids while working in a hot environment.
Heat Syncope (pronounced “sin-co-pay”) is sudden fainting caused by a reduced blood flow to the head. The victim’s skin will be cool and moist and his/her pulse will be weak. Immediate medical attention is needed in the event of syncope.
Heat Exhaustion results from inadequate salt and water intake and is a sign the body’s cooling system is not working properly. The victim will sweat heavily, their skin will be cool and moist and their pulse weak. They will seem tired, confused, clumsy, irritable or upset. They may breathe rapidly, even pant, and their vision may be blurred. The victim may strongly argue that they are okay even with these obvious symptoms. If you suspect heat exhaustion, don’t let the victim talk you out of seeking immediate medical attention. The heat exhaustion will affect their ability to exercise good judgment. Until medical help arrives, try to cool the victim and offer sips of cool water as long as the victim is conscious. Immediate medical attention is required. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke.
Heat Stroke is the deadliest of all heat stress conditions. It occurs when the body’s cooling mechanism has shut down after extreme loss of salt and fluids. Here, the body temperature will rise, the victim’s skin will be hot, red, and dry. Their pulse is fast, and they may complain of headache or dizziness. They will probably be weak, confused, and upset. Later stages of heat stroke cause a loss of consciousness and may lead to convulsions. In the event of heat stroke, seek immediate medical attention. Until help arrives, try to cool the victim and offer sips of cool water if the victim is conscious.
Recognizing the symptoms of heat stress is very important, particularly since the victim may not realize what is happening. If you work alone in a hot environment, develop a “buddy system” so someone will check in on you periodically to look for signs of heat stress.
Facts About Heat Safety
Extreme heat is dangerous. In a typical year, as many as 175 Americans die from extreme heat.
Men sweat more than women. While women have more sweat glands, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, men’s sweat glands are more active, leading them to sweat more. The more you sweat, the more easily you can become dehydrated, which can lead to other health issues.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats. Warning signs of heat exhaustion include: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, heavy sweating, and headache. To treat heat exhaustion, it’s important to move to a cool location, drink lots of water, and soak in a cool bath or use cool compresses.
Being overheated can lead to heat stroke, which can be serious and life-threatening. Heat stroke can occur when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees; at this point, your body cannot regulate temperature on its own. Signs you may be having heat stroke include muscle cramping, fast heart beat, vomiting, flushed skin, headache, and mental confusion. Call 911 if you see someone experience these symptoms. As with heat exhaustion, someone experiencing heat stroke should be moved to a cooler place and cooled down with a bath of cool water or compresses.
You can protect yourself from heat stroke by staying hydrated. Drink before you are thirsty. In extreme heat, it’s best to avoid caffeine and alcohol. Wear loose clothing that allows the air to circulate around you when exercising, and avoid exercising outdoors during the hottest part of the day, which is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Instead, schedule your workout as close to sunrise or sunset as possible.
Infants and small children are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses for several reasons. They can’t control their environment (if they’re left in a room that is hot, for example); they have a high metabolic rate, which means their bodies are producing heat constantly; and they aren’t able to perspire as sufficiently as adults. Never leave a child in a parked car, even with the windows open.
Others at higher risk for heat-related illness include those who are morbidly obese, the elderly, and people who are immobile. People with diabetes can be heat sensitive, too. If you have diabetes and you become dehydrated from the heat, it can affect your blood-sugar levels. Be sure to keep insulin and other diabetes medications out of the heat, as hot temperatures can ruin them.
Some medications can put you at an increased risk for heat stroke as well. These include allergy medicines or antihistamines, blood pressure and heart medications, diuretics, laxatives, antidepressants, and seizure medications. Talk to your doctor about what precautions you should take if you’re taking any of these.
Nausea and vomiting are both early heatstroke symptoms. If you don’t recognize what is going on, and get yourself into a cooler environment, some of heatstroke’s life-threatening complications may be up next.
People have about 4 million sweat glands throughout their bodies, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Both produce fluids. The area of the brain known as the hypothalamus controls your body temperature by regulating sweat output and blood flow to the skin. The foul odor associated with sweat comes from the apocrine glands found in the armpits and genital region; the sweat from these glands produces a smell when it comes in contact with bacteria on the skin.