Prevention and Treatment Tips for Heat Related Illnesses
The temperature in my hometown on June 13, 1980 was above 100˚ with a heat index of 113˚. I remember these numbers clearly, as my father was one of many heat-related deaths during the summer heat wave of 1980.
Summer should be a time of barbeques, swimming, family vacations, gardening, fishing, mowing the grass, and basking in golden rays of sunshine. And it can be, if you learn to respect the heat.
Your responsibility to your outdoor workers is two-fold in the summer: (1) assure that they remain hydrated and protected, and (2) recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and know how to respond accordingly. The following tips will help you protect your most valuable assets:
Heat takes a toll on the body, and everyone has a different tolerance to conditions. The following tips are provided to help prevent heat-related illness:
- Schedule work to alleviate full-day exposure to the heat
- Summer hours may need to be adjusted to an earlier or later shift in order to avoid the peak heat of the day, typically between 12:00 am and 4:00 pm
- Keep cool bottled water accessible to your workers at all times
- Recommended water intake is 4 cups per hour (1 Liter)
- Water should be consumed steadily throughout the day
- Avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks
- Chilled fruits like grapes and strawberries are another good source of hydration and can help cool the body temperature down
- Eat light meals – vegetables and fruits contain higher water content
- Dress in light, breathable clothing (cotton)
- Keep chilled towels for workers to wipe their faces or drape around their necks
- Schedule frequent breaks in designated shade or cooling areas where workers can rest out of the direct sunlight
- Employees should pace themselves – safe always wins over speed
- Wear sunscreen and brimmed hats, when possible
USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM
The buddy system is not just for kids. When working in severe heat, it is critical that your employees watch out for one another. This means they need to know the signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat-related illnesses. Muscles spasms usually occur first in the arms or legs and typically result from the loss of salt and electrolytes that occurs from sweating. Workers experiencing heat cramps should recognize this symptom as a need to drink water.
What to do: Drinking a cup of water for every 15 minutes of direct exposure (1L per hour) will help prevent heat cramps. If a worker experiences heat cramps, they should sit in a shaded area, drink water, and do some gentle stretches
Heat exhaustion is a serious indication that the body is overheating and requires immediate attention. Signs of heat exhaustion may include:
- Rapid breathing
- Clammy, cool-to-the-touch skin
- Dizziness or fainting
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Headache, nausea, or vomiting
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Paleness or weakness
- Flu-like symptoms, including diarrhea
What to do: Move the worker to a cool area, loosen any tight or restrictive clothing, apply cool wet towels to the skin or spray the person with cool water. Fan the person and get them to drink water slowly. If the overheated person won’t drink, starts to vomit, or passes out, call 911 for immediate medical attention.
Heat stroke is the most serious of all heat-related illnesses and requires immediate medical attention. Heat stroke indicates that the body can no longer cool itself and is an immediate health threat. Heat stroke often leads to severe organ damage or death. DIAL 911!
Signs of heat stroke include:
- Hot, red skin
- Body temperature of 104˚ or higher
- Lack of sweating
- Chills or vomiting
- Rapid pulse
- Slurred speech
- Disorientation, confusion, or total loss of consciousness
What to do: DIAL 911!
- Move the worker to a shaded, cool area
- Position the person to a half-sitting stance
- Remove tight clothing and fan the person
- Immerse the worker in cold water or apply cold, wet towels or ice to the skin
- Do NOT allow the worker to drink
Preventing heat-related illnesses is everyone’s responsibility. Train your workers in what to look for and how to respond to heat exposures and related illnesses, and have a safe summer!
Does your company have formal safety policies in place? Are you responsible for workforce safety or risk management? Contact our safety and risk management firm in Kansas City or give us a call at (816) 349-0850 to see how we can help design a safety and risk management plan that meets your unique needs.