The types of heat related illness vary from mild to life threatening and include the following:
Dehydration – Your body is sweating fluids faster than they are being replenished. You may feel weak and very thirsty.
Heat Rash/Prickly Heat – This rash occurs in areas where sweat is
not easily removed from the surface of the skin. Heat rash can be
extremely irritating because it develops in very sensitive areas of the
body (if you have ever had prickly heat, you know what I am talking
about). This problem can be mitigated by resting in a cool, dry place
and allowing your clothing to dry. Bringing a second set of clothes to
the site and changing in the middle of your shift may be helpful. Also,
wearing clothing that wicks moisture quickly – like many of the new
high-performance fabrics, may also avoid this issue. While getting a
rash is not life threatening, it is uncomfortable, may cause your
performance to be degraded, and in extreme cases, could lead to
infection if not treated.
Cramps – Muscle spasms occur due to the loss of electrolytes in
the body due to heavy sweating. Electrolytes are minerals such as
sodium, potassium and magnesium that are essential to the body. Large
muscles/muscle groups such as thighs, shoulders and arms are all at risk
for heat related cramps. In some cases, the cramps may occur hours
after the activity is stopped. Staying hydrated with water and replacing
electrolytes with sports drinks will help alleviate heat cramps.
Heat Exhaustion – Symptoms of heat exhaustion include clammy
moist skin, dizziness and possible fainting. You may feel nauseated,
have a headache and feel tired. If you have these symptoms, it’s time to
get out of the sun, take a break and drink fluids. Removing your PPE
and loosening/removing tight fitting clothes will also help.
Heat Stroke – Heat stroke is a life threatening emergency.
Symptoms of heat stroke include hot dry skin, rapid heartbeat,
confusion, delirium, rapid/shallow breathing and loss of consciousness.
If these symptoms are noted, call 911 and immediately take the following
- Move the victim to shade
- Remove or loosen clothing
- Cool the body, neck and head with cold water, ice packs and fans
- Place the victim in the recovery position until first responders arrive
So how can you prevent heat related illness? Follow these steps:
- Review the symptoms of heat issues during the morning tailgate safety meeting
- Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing – without disrespecting the PPE requirements of the job
- Select PPE carefully, keeping in mind the need to balance exposure protection with heat safety issues
- Use fans or shade structures on site to minimize sun/heat exposure
- Start earlier in the day or work at night to eliminate working during the hottest time of the day
- Become acclimated to the weather before working long shifts
- Maintain body fluids
- Drink about one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you are not thirsty
- No alcohol, coffee, tea or caffeinated beverages
- Electrolyte replacement good; sugary and ”energy” drinks bad
- Build in rest periods during the shift
- Eat light meals and avoid heavy foods
Do not drink alcohol to excess in the evenings – moderation will help keep your fluid levels high