Do you work outdoors?
Heat Related Issues, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Exposure
The fall season is quickly approaching; however, we are still experiencing some triple digit temperatures throughout the southern region. Heat exposure is a common concern for many professionals who work primarily outdoors. It is a natural danger; one many of us face every day. Many studies have been conducted on how high temperatures affect the human body and how individual peoples react differently.
Normal, healthy adults have many ways in which they can handle high temperatures – perspiration or sweating which allows for evaporative cooling. People also experience the dilation of blood vessels (which increases blood pressure). This adaptation allows for the body to keep the blood from being near the skin where it warms up and it can speed up heat loss by convection.
We know there is a connection between high temperatures and heat-related illness and death. The CDC recognizes that workers over 65 years of age, those who are overweight, and those who have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications are more likely to be affected by extreme heat.
So, what symptoms and signs should you be looking out for when temperatures rise?
- Heat cramps. Heat cramps occur usually during strenuous activity due to a lack of water and salt in the body.
- Excruciating headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Confusion & lack of coordination
- Heavy sweating (that can lead to hot dry skin in the case of heat stroke)
- Slightly elevated to extremely high body temperature
- Fast, shallow breaths
If you begin to feel any of these symptoms, immediately rest in a cool or air conditioned space. If possible, take a cool shower. If extreme symptoms exist, find medical assistance immediately.
What can you do help prevent heat stress or heat exhaustion?
- Monitor how you are feeling when working in extreme heat.
- Gradually build up to heavy work in hot conditions.
- Try to work in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are less extreme.
- Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing. Wicking and breathable fabrics are best.
- Personal protective equipment can increase risk of heat related illness, so soaking cotton fabrics in water can help cool the body.
- Take frequent breaks. If possible, in air conditioned or shaded spaces.
- Drink plenty of water – stay hydrated. If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Aim to drink approximately 8 oz of water every 15 minutes.
If working in hot humid conditions sounds like your daily working environment, it is a good idea to put the above suggested measures into practice. Good general health habits such as not smoking, moderate alcohol use, and a healthy diet can help your body be prepared for additional stresses such as heat during the long summer months.
Annu. Rev. Public Health 2008, 29:41-55 Kovats, R. Sari and Hajat, Shakoor. Heat Stress and Public Health: A Critical Review
Centers for Disease Control www.cdc.gov