Taylor Murray, CSP CHST CET
With the arrival of summer, it is important to focus on heat stress and the risks it poses. Heat stress is an issue that affects us both in the workplace and at home. It occurs when the body begins to lose the ability to cool itself, and can develop into much more complicated medical issues if untreated.
Early prevention is the key to staying away from the issues associated with heat stress, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Several factors influence heat stress, such as air temperature, humidity, low fluid consumption, physical exertion, poor physical condition, acclimation, and some medications. The best prevention for heat stress is proper hydration (8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes), periodic breaks, and rotation of strenuous job tasks. It is also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stress and act accordingly when they are recognized.
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. To avoid further heat stress illnesses, have the person replace fluids lost during sweating by drinking water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids.
Heat Exhaustion is the body’s response to the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, you may need to perform the following first aid:
Heat Stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness – occurs when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately. While waiting for help try to do the following:
|Heat Index||Risk Level||Protective Measures|
|Less than 91°F||Lower (Caution)||Basic heat safety and planning|
|91°F to 103°F||Moderate||Implement precautions and heighten awareness|
|103°F to 115°F||High||Additional precautions to protect workers|
|Greater than 115°F||Very High to Extreme||Triggers even more aggressive protective measures|