It’s that time of the year where we find ourselves in the month of June, it’s late spring and we are in the midst of summer. With summer comes the heat that can create hazardous outdoor working conditions. Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments can be at the risk of heat stresses or illnesses and death. Since it’s not plausible to stop all outdoor work activities or perform them inside away from the heat; we must find other ways to protect ourselves in order to work safely.
One way we can begin to better protect ourselves is to understand what over exposure to heat stress can cause and what the signs of the different heat illnesses are. There are different types of heat related illnesses that can affect us: heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash.
Of all the heat related illnesses, heat stroke is the most serious. Heat stroke occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature and the internal body temperature reaches or exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this occurs it becomes a medical emergency that if not treated can result in death.
The signs of heat stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) include:
⦁ Confusion and or slurred speech
⦁ Hot, dry skin or perfuse sweating
⦁ Loss of consciousness
First aid measures for heat stroke according to the CDC include:
⦁ Call 911 for emergency medical care.
⦁ Stay with worker until emergency medical services arrive.
⦁ Move the worker to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing.
⦁ Cool the worker quickly with a cold water or ice bath if possible; wet the skin, place cold wet clothes on skin, or soak clothing with cool water.
⦁ Circulate the air around the worker to speed cooling.
⦁ Place cold wet clothes or ice on head, neck, armpits, and groin; or soak the clothing with cool water.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body acts negatively to a sudden loss of water and salt. The excessive loss of water and salt is usually because of perfuse sweating that occurs when working in hot/humid environments.
The signs of heat exhaustion according to the CDC include:
⦁ Heavy sweating
⦁ Elevated body temperature
⦁ Decreased urine output
First aid measures for heat exhaustion according to the CDC include:
⦁ Taking the worker to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment.
⦁ If medical/ first aid care is unavailable, call 911.
⦁ The worker should not be left alone until help arrives.
⦁ Remove worker from hot area and give liquids to drink.
⦁ Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
⦁ Cool the worker with cold compresses or have the worker wash head, face, and neck with cold water.
⦁ Encourage frequent sips of cool water.
Heat rash is caused by skin irritation from excessive sweating in hot and humid weather. The sweat ducts in one’s skin become clogged and sweat cannot easily reach the surface of the skin causing the irritation/rash.
Symptoms of heat rash according to the CDC include:
⦁ Looks like red cluster of pimples or small blisters
⦁ Usually appears on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases
First aid measures for heat rash according to the CDC include:
⦁ When possible, a cooler, less humid work environment is best treatment.
⦁ Keep rash area dry.
⦁ Powder may be applied to increase comfort.
⦁ Ointments and creams should not be used.
Now that we have covered the definitions, symptoms and first aid measures for heat stress/illnesses let us look at other ways we can better protect ourselves during the hot summer months. There is more than one way to prevent heat stress/illness from occurring so we’ll look at the heat index and control measures we can use.
According to the National Weather Service, the heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. The heat index is a useful tool for determining the risk level and protective measures necessary for working safely.
The best way to protect workers from the heat is to implement engineering controls such as:
⦁ Airconditioning – cabs of vehicles/equipment and rest areas
⦁ Cooling fans
⦁ Create shaded work/break areas
Administrate Controls/Work Practices:
In addition to engineering controls or where engineering controls are not possible changes in work practices are necessary.
⦁ Limit exposure, take frequent breaks (rest/work cycles)
⦁ Drink fluids switching between water and electrolyte drinks
⦁ Have a plan if someone becomes ill
⦁ Gradually build up to the heat
⦁ Utilize tools that reduce strain on the worker
⦁ Use more workers for each task to distribute the work
⦁ Use the buddy system
⦁ Train workers on identifying the signs/symptoms of heat related stress/illness
⦁ Train workers how to respond to heat related stress/illnesses
⦁ Have a heat stress/illness prevention program
⦁ Start work earlier in the day to avoid higher afternoon temperatures
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Occasionally in special instances, insulated gloves, insulated suits, reflective clothing, or infrared reflecting face shields may be needed to protect the worker. Thermally conditioned clothing might be used for extremely hot conditions; for example:
⦁ A garment with a self-contained air conditioner in a backpack.
⦁ A garment with a compressed air source that feeds cool air through a vortex tube.
⦁ A plastic jacket whose pockets can be filled with dry ice or containers of ice.
In closing, working in the heat can be hazardous to our health, but if we take the time to pre-plan and implement a heat stress/illness prevention program, train workers and supervisors to recognize the signs of heat illnesses/how to respond to them and use the proper control measures we can reduce the likelihood of heat related stress/illnesses from occurring. For more information on heat related stress/illness please look online at the CDC or OSHA websites.
Alex Paul “AP” Lhotsky