While we typically think of heat-related illnesses in the summer as temperatures rise outside, hazardous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors during any season if the right conditions are met. Heavy physical activity, warm or hot environmental conditions, and wearing clothing that retains body heat, all increase the likelihood of heat-related illnesses.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 50 to 70 percent of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to build a tolerance to heat gradually over time. The process of building tolerance is called heat acclimatization. Failing to properly acclimatize significantly increases risk factors and can be fatal.
Some preventative measures you can take to avoid heat-related illnesses include:
- Consuming adequate fluids, such as water and other hydrating beverages
- Working shorter shifts
- Taking frequent breaks
- Taking time to become acclimatized
- Identifying heat-related symptoms quickly.
Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
It is important for employers and workers to be familiar with heat-related illness signs and to provide prompt first aid when symptoms are present. Multiple heat-related illnesses can occur together. Don’t delay treatment as conditions can worsen quickly and result in fatalities. The various heat-related illnesses and their symptoms follow.
Heat Stroke – Confusion; slurred speech; unconsciousness; seizures; rapid heart rate; very high body temperature; and heaving, sweating or hot, red, dry skin
Heat Exhaustion – Fatigue, thirst, irritability, nausea or vomiting, or elevated body temperature or fast heart rate
Heat Cramps – Muscle spasms or pain, usually in legs, arms, or trunk
Heat Syncope – Fainting and dizziness
Heat Rash – Clusters of red bumps on the skin, often appearing on the neck, upper chest, and in skin folds
Rhabdomyolysis (Muscle Breakdown) – Muscle pain, weakness, or dark urine or reduced urine output
Take the affected worker to a cooler area (e.g., shade or air conditioning).
Cool the worker immediately. Use active cooling techniques such as:
- Immerse the worker in cold water or an ice bath. Create the ice bath by placing all available ice into a large container with water. This is the best method to cool workers rapidly in an emergency.
- Remove outer layers of clothing, especially heavy protective clothing.
- Place ice or cold wet towels on the head, neck, trunk, armpits, and groin.
- Use fans to circulate air around the worker.
Never leave a worker with heat-related illness alone as the illness can rapidly become worse.
When in doubt, call 911!
Encourage employees to be aware of the conditions that lead to heat-related illnesses and to use preventative measures to minimize their exposure. RETTEW also offers First Aid trainings to keep your employees apprised of the signs of heat-related illnesses so they can provide prompt care to affected personnel. Please contact Kelly Kramer, CECD, HEM, at 800.738.8395 for more information.
Safety training and consulting are only some of RETTEW’s 600+ services. Our safety team works hand in hand with engineers, scientists, project managers, and other technical experts at places such as manufacturing facilities, drill pads, and commercial construction sites. We are well respected in many industries and known for ensuring workers and equipment remain safe, which keeps your projects on track and your bottom line growing.