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Heat Stress: Not Just a Health Problem, But a Safety Problem, Too

Originally posted July 31, 2013 by Chris Kilbourne on https://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com

Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat stress, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heat stress can result in:

  • Heat stroke
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Fainting episodes
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat rashes

Heat can also increase the risk of injuries, since it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness. Burns may also occur as a result of accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.

When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech

The following steps should be taken to treat a worker with heat stroke:

  • Call 911 and notify a supervisor.
  • Move the sick worker to a cool shaded area.
  • Cool the worker using methods such as soaking their clothes with water or spraying, sponging, or showering them with water. Fanning the body can also help.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy, moist skin
  • Pale or flushed complexion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Slightly elevated body temperature
  • Fast and shallow breathing

The following steps should be taken to treat workers with heat exhaustion:

  • Have them rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area.
  • Have them drink plenty of water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Have them take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

Other Heat-Related Problems

Heat syncope (fainting due to heat), heat cramps, and heat rash are less serious health effects of extreme heat, but employees should be aware of these risks as well and know what to do about them.

Workers with heat syncope should:

  • Sit or lie down in a cool place when they begin to feel symptoms.
  • Slowly drink water, clear juice, or a sports beverage.

Workers with heat cramps should:

  • Stop all activity, and sit in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
  • Do not return to strenuous work for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention if heart problems, low-sodium diet, or cramps do not subside within 1 hour.

And workers experiencing heat rash should keep the affected area dry and use powder to increase comfort.