During the summer months, workers who are exposed to extreme heat should recognize symptoms of heat stress, and how it can be prevented. Things that can lead to heat stress are: inadequate water intake, physical exertion, direct sun, high temperature or humidity, and some medicines. Workers should stay hydrated and maintain a safe core body temperature, which should never exceed 100°F. Ingesting fluids on a regular basis also puts less strain on the cardiovascular system.
Signs of heat disorders are:
- Heat Stroke – This is the most serious heat related disorder. Confusion, irrational behavior, loss of consciousness, lack of sweating (usually), an abnormally high temperature are primary signs of heat stroke, resulting in a medical emergency. The worker should be doused with cool water and given fluids. Drinks that contain alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar can cause workers to lose body fluid, and very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps. Cool fluids are easier to drink and more easily absorbed into the body.
- Heat Exhaustion – This is the result of a combination of dehydration and excessive heat. Headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, giddiness, and thirst are symptoms. Workers with heat exhaustion should be given fluids, and encouraged to rest. Workers can stay hydrated by keeping containers of fluids handy at all times.
- Heat Cramps – Caused by an electrolyte imbalance caused by sweating and lack of water replenishment. Workers in hot environments should drink water every 15 to 20 minutes and drink carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks).
- Heat Rashes – Most common problem where skin is persistently wetted by sweat. Creams or ointments should not be used as they keep the skin warm and moist, and may worsen the condition. Powders may be applied.
A reminder to workers: be sure to drink fluids before becoming thirsty; if you wait, your body is already dehydrated. Wear a wide brimmed hat if your work doesn’t require a hardhat, use sunscreen, and wear OSHA approved safety glasses that have the proper UV protection. There are many other products on the market to help you “keep your cool”.