Heat Illness: Protecting Yourself and Others
Hot weather is approaching, and working in the heat poses serious risks. If you work outdoors or in high heat conditions indoors, you should take extra precautions to protect yourself by knowing the triggers and warning signs of heat illness.
What is heat illness? Our bodies regulate temperatures in hot environments by sweating and increasing the blood flow to the skin. Up to one quart of water, plus minerals and salts, can be lost during each hour of sweating. Once the body’s natural defenses become overwhelmed, mild to severe heat illness may develop.
Environmental conditions are the primary cause of heat illness. High air temperatures, coupled with high relative humidity and little air movement are key factors. Other contributing risk factors are age, sex, obesity, degree of physical fitness, malnutrition, dehydration, recent use of alcohol or drugs, preexisting diseases such as diabetes, and the added burden of heat load on the body caused by exertion, clothing, and personal protective equipment. Heat illness is generally more severe when workers are most active.
Types of Heat Illnesses and their Symptoms
- Skin eruptions: red bumps on the skin and a prickling sensation called “prickly heat”
- Heat cramps: heavy perspiration, inadequate replacement of salt causing painful muscle spasms during or several hours after activity
- Behavioral disorders: heat fatigue/dehydration, leading to impaired physical or mental performance, mild dizziness, and increase risk of accidents
- Heat exhaustion: excessive sweating; cold, moist, pale or flushed skin; thirst; extreme weakness or fatigue; headache; nausea; lack of appetite; rapid weak pulse; giddiness
- Body collapse imminent without proper treatment
- Heat stroke: lack of sweating; hot, dry flushed skin; red, mottled or bluish skin; deep rapid breathing; delirium; loss of consciousness; convulsions
- Condition can be fatal without emergency medical treatment
Prevention & Control
- Drink small amounts of cool water frequently (about 7 ounces every 15 - 20 minutes).
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks, which cause dehydration.
- Start work or projects in the early morning when it is cooler, if possible.
- Take rest breaks in cool and shaded areas, and not in vehicles.
- Wear light colored loose clothing and hard hats (which not only offer head protection from falling objects, but shield the sun’s rays).
- Space out heavier workload projects throughout the day, when possible.
By knowing the signs and symptoms and taking proper precautions and control of your situation, you can safeguard yourself and your colleagues from heat illness.