Stay Cool by Avoiding Heat-Related Illness

In the past, we have covered heat safety topics such as preventive measures for UV exposure, maintaining air conditioning units to avoid equipment breakdown, and the dangers of gas grilling. Many of our readers may already be familiar with the general risk involved with prolonged heat and sun exposure, but safeguarding your outdoor employees from heat-related illnesses requires more than just lathering on sunscreen.

We have compiled a list of guidelines for those who work outdoors on how to identify and respond to different heat-related illnesses. These guidelines are based on OSHA safety recommendations, and more detailed information can be found on their website. Any employee experiencing symptoms of serious heat-related illnesses should seek immediate medical attention.

Categories of Heat-related Illnesses

Heat rash is a form of skin irritation normally located on areas covered by clothing. The rash looks like a bunching of red bumps, and is often caused by swollen sweat ducts that keep sweat from evaporating. This condition typically passes after a few days.

What you can do:

  • Keep the affected area as dry as possible
  • Move operations to a cooler, less humid environment

Heat rashes can become infected if left untreated. Here’s a list of symptoms:

  • Increased redness, swelling, associated pain, itchiness, or warmth around the rash areas
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Red streaks stretching from the rash area
  • Drainage of pus from the rash area

Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps induced by a loss of necessary body salts and fluids while sweating. Typically, heat cramps affect muscle groups used in heavy work such as calves, shoulders, etc. These cramps can result in involuntary and intermittent spasms. This condition normally passes on its own.

What you can do:

  • Have the employee rest in a shady, cool area; make sure to wait a few hours before resuming work
    Hydrate; avoid coffee, sugary drinks such as energy drinks, and alcohol
  • If condition does not improve, seek medical attention
  • Like heat cramps, heat exhaustion is triggered by dehydration, causing fatigue, weakness, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and loss of consciousness. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to more serious conditions like heat stroke.

What you can do:

  • Rest in a shady, cool area
  • Hydrate; avoid coffee, sugary drinks, and alcohol
  • Cool off with cold compresses or ice packs
  • Do not resume work that day
  • If conditions do not improve within an hour or symptoms appear to worsen, seek immediate medical attention

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can cause irreparable damage to organs, including the brain. Symptoms include fainting, confusion, heavy sweating, extremely high body temperature, and seizures. In the event of a heat stroke, call 911 immediately.

What you can do as you wait for help:

  • Move the worker to a shady, cool area
  • Remove outer clothing
  • Loosen clothing
  • Provide hydration
  • Fan air and douse the worker in cool water
  • Apply cold compresses or ice packs in armpits

Additionally, OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have created a Heat Safety Tool mobile app available for download on iOS and Android devices. The app includes the Heat Index as well as, “heat-related illness-reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.” For more information, please visit the OSHA website.

Stay safe and cool as you work outside this summer!

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