Excessive Heat Could Cause A Disaster For You
By Maureen Alvarez
As we continue to work in the hot
summer months, we must remind ourselves of the causes and
dangers of heat related emergencies. Heat waves and droughts
take more lives than almost any other natural disaster in
North American history. This fact should serve as a reminder
of the importance of protecting ourselves from the effects
of excess heat.
Heat stress occurs when
the body has to work too hard to cool off. The body's core
temperature gets too high for the body to cool off quickly
enough. Heat stress symptoms include the following:
Heat cramps often occur in the legs
and abdomen when a person is sweating heavily and replacing
water but not salt. The skin is hot and moist and the pulse
Heat Cramps will often affect people
who are doing strenuous activities in the heat resulting in
a large amount of sweating. The sweating depletes the bodys
salt and moisture content. The decrease in salt concentration
in the muscles could cause painful cramps. Employees who
work outdoors during the summer months while performing heavy
labor work such as construction are at risk of developing
heat cramps. Also, employees who perform work in personal
protective equipment such as hazardous material crews are
also at risk.
Heat Cramps may also be a symptom
of Heat Exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body's
heat control system is overtaxed. Symptoms of heat exhaustion
include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness,
dizziness, weakness, fainting, headache, nausea and vomiting.
During heat exhaustion the core body temperature is increasing
and your normal body mechanisms of lowering that temperature
cannot keep up. Heat exhaustion may lead to Heat Stroke.
Heat Stroke occurs when the bodys
cooling mechanism fails. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent
disability if emergency treatment is not rapidly provided.
Heat stroke is a serious emergency
which requires immediate medical attention. It occurs when
the body is rapidly using up its supplies of water and salt.
Sweating stops and the body, including the brain, begins to
overheat rapidly. Body temperature climbs to fatal levels.
Symptoms include hot, dry, flushed skin, rapid pulse, difficulty
breathing, headache, confusion and strange behavior, weakness
and nausea. Heat stroke can rapidly progress to seizure and
convulsions, unconsciousness and loss of pulse.
Who is at High Risk of Heat Stress
The following types of people are
considered to be at high risk of heat stress:
- Employees that work strenuously outdoors
- Employees that work in a hot environment and/or are required
to wear heavy, bulky clothing or personal protective equipment
(i.e., Welders, Abatement workers, HazMat workers, Firemen,
- Adults over 65 years of age
- People who are overweight or obese
- People who have high blood pressure
- People with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or
have an infection causing a fever
- People who are on certain medications or have been drinking
The following are some tips for
avoiding heat stress this summer:
- Follow work and rest routines which keep you from becoming exhausted
in the heat. Alternate heavy work with lighter work, or
move from a hot location to a cooler one periodically. If
possible, schedule the heavy work for morning or late afternoon
when it is cooler outside. Take advantage of scheduled
breaks to rest and cool off.
- Drink water frequently. One of the main causes of heat stress
is dehydration, so keep up your intake of water or fluid
replacement drinks. Don't wait until you are thirsty to
drink. Avoid alcohol and caffeine beverages, which actually
deplete the body of fluids.
If possible, put bottles of water
in the work area so that water is readily available. Try
and pre-hydrate prior to any strenuous work or activity.
- Eat regular, light meals. Save the hot dinner until after work,
and have something cool such as salad for lunch. If you
are sweating a lot, lightly salt your foods to replace salt.
However, if you are on a salt-restricted diet, seek medical
advice about this. Salt tablets are not recommended.
- Take care when moving from a cool area to a hot one, such as
leaving an air-conditioned workplace and stepping out into
the late afternoon heat. Take time to get accustomed to
the temperature, and slow down. Getting into a hot car can
also be a shock to the system, so use ventilation to cool
- Dress in loose, comfortable clothing made of light fabrics and
in light colors. Layer your clothing so you can add and
take off items of clothing as the temperature changes.
- People in poor health, overweight, tired, taking certain medications, older,
or previous victims of heat stress, are more susceptible
to heat illness. Please take the time to identify your
own personal limitations of working in the heat and monitor
The treatment of heat stress depends
on how serious it is:
- In the case of heat cramps move into the shade
and loosen clothing. Drink lightly salted fluids (Gatorade,
sports drinks, etc.) Seek medical help if the cramps persist.
Keep the victim sitting or lying down.
- For heat exhaustion, get the victim to a cooler
shaded area. Loosen clothing, and begin cooling the victim
quickly - by fanning him and pouring cool water on him if
necessary. Have the victim drink water, salted if available.
- Heat stroke is a serious,
life threatening condition and the person needs immediate
medical help. Call an ambulance immediately, and begin cooling
the victim as quickly as possible. Spray or sponge him with
cool water or immerse him. Do not give liquids to an unconscious
Heat stroke is a life-threatening
illness. Take steps to prevent heat illness, and treat all
heat disorders seriously.
For more information about heat
and sun hazards, visit the OSHA web page at www.osha.gov. To help employers protect workers from the harmful
effects of working in hot environments, OSHA offers a heat
stress card available in English and Spanish. To order
copies of the card, call OSHA Publications at (202) 698-1888.
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See you next month,