Sometimes, people can be required to work in hot environments for long periods. When the body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, heat-related issues and disease can cause death. The article below provides information about the steps one should take to prevent illness and death caused by heat stress.
Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and body temperature rises to critical levels (greater than 104°F). This is a medical emergency that may result in death! The signs of heat stroke are confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. people experiencing heat stroke have a very high body temperature and may stop sweating. If a person shows signs of possible heat stroke, get medical help immediately, and call 911. Until medical help arrives, move the person to a shady, cool area and remove as much clothing as possible. Wet the person with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling. Place cold wet cloths, wet towels or ice all over the body or soak the person’s clothing with cold water.
Heat Exhaustion is the next most serious heat-related health problem. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating and a body temperature greater than 100.4°F. people with heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot area and given liquids to drink. Remove unnecessary clothing including shoes and socks.
Cool the person with cold compresses to the head, neck, and face or have the person wash his or her head, face and neck with cold water. Encourage frequent sips of cool water. people with signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment. Make sure that someone stays with the person until help arrives. If symptoms worsen, call 911 and get help immediately.
Heat Cramps are muscle pains usually caused by physical labor in a hot work environment. Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. people with heat cramps should replace fluid loss by drinking water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat Rash is the most common problem in hot work environments. Heat rash is caused by sweating and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Heat rash usually appears on the neck, upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts and in elbow creases. The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid work environment. The rash area should be kept dry. Powder may be applied to increase comfort. Ointments and creams should not be used on a heat rash. Anything that makes the skin warm or moist may make the rash worse.
The best way to prevent heat illness is to make the work environment cooler. In outdoor situations, this may be done by scheduling activities during the cooler times of the day. However, very early starting times may result in increased fatigue. Also, humidity tends to be higher in the early morning hours. Provide air conditioned or shaded areas close to the work area and allow frequent rest breaks.
Indoor workplaces may be cooled by using air conditioning or increased ventilation, assuming that cooler air is available from the outside. Other methods to reduce indoor temperature include: providing reflective shields to redirect radiant heat, insulating hot surfaces, and decreasing water vapor pressure, e.g., by sealing steam leaks and keeping floors dry. The use of fans to increase the air speed over the person will improve heat exchange between the skin surface and the air, unless the air temperature is higher than the skin temperature. However, increasing air speeds above 300 ft. per min. may actually have a warming effect. Industrial hygiene personnel can assess the degree of heat stress caused by the work environment and make recommendations for reducing heat exposure.