Employees who are engaged in outdoor activities on hot or humid days may not always recognize when they are losing valuable body water and electrolytes.
When it doesn’t seem like we are sweating more than usual, or we feel like we have plenty of energy to continue hours of work or play in the hot sun, we are less likely to replace fluids in order to stay hydrated, or to take occasional breaks in a cool, shaded location.
But just because you don’t see the signs of heat disorders immediately, does not mean that they are not developing or worsening. The information below will help you familiarize yourself with common heat-related illnesses, and ways to prevent and alleviate them.
Heat Rash can occur when sweat glands are “plugged” and clogged, and can cause the skin to become red and itchy. It can be prevented by keeping skin dry and wearing fast-drying clothing.
Heat Fatigue is characterized by discomfort, irritability, disorientation, headaches and exhaustion. It can be alleviated by getting out of the heat, relaxing your body and drinking plenty of cool liquids.
Heat Cramps are caused by overexertion in a hot environment. They are characterized by painful muscle spasms indicative of a loss of body water and electrolytes. To treat these cramps, you can massage the affected muscles and drink both water and electrolyte replacement drinks, such as Gatorade®, Powerade® or Vitaminwater®.
Heat Fainting or syncope is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. Fainting can occur when individuals are not used to working in a hot environment, or when they are active for long periods in the heat. Treatment must be immediate. Start by having the person lie down to rest in a cool, shady place; and have them drink plenty of water and/or electrolyte replacement drinks.
Heat Exhaustion is a serious condition resulting from the loss of body fluids and electrolytes, and decreased blood flow to the brain and other organs. Heat exhaustion can manifest in the form of: excessive sweating with cool, pale and clammy skin; weakness; nausea; headache; dizziness; or a slightly elevated body temperature. As with heat fainting, treatment must be immediate.
To alleviate the progression of heat exhaustion: move the person to a cool, shady place to rest, elevating his or her feet slightly, loosen or remove heavy or restrictive clothing and ensure that he or she drinks plenty of water or electrolyte replacement drinks.
Heat Stroke is the most serious of the heat disorders and should be treated immediately to prevent brain damage and/or death! Heat stroke results from a complete breakdown of a person’s body cooling mechanisms, and symptoms can include headache, chills or nausea; mental confusion or dizziness; a visible lack of perspiration; hot, dry skin; a reddish, bluish or mottled skin color; a strong, rapid pulse; a temperature of 104° F or higher; unconsciousness; convulsions; and possible coma. Call 9-1-1 to ensure that medical attention is on its way. Rapidly remove the person’s clothing and quickly work to lower their body temperature by immersing them in cool water and fanning them.
Sunburn results from excessive exposure to UV rays that can damage the skin and contribute to cellular changes in skin that can lead to cancer. To minimize the harmful effects of the UV radiation, moderate your time in the sun. Apply (SPF 15 or above) sunscreen no less than 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. Also, wearing tightly woven, loose-fitting and dark colored protective clothing and a hat with a brim will help to create layers of protection from the sun.
To relieve pain and fever, apply a cold compresses to the affected areas, take a cool tepid baths, use an over the-counter (OTC) topical steroid like as hydrocortisone 1% cream, or a steroid-containing prescription lotion, or take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®).
No matter what the heat related illness is, here are some key steps to take for prevention:
Tips for Beating the Heat
- Pay attention to weather reports and adjust daily routines accordingly
- Schedule physically strenuous tasks for cooler times of the day
- Encourage employees to dress in light, loose cotton clothing and wear brimmed hats or caps
- Remind employees to take periodic breaks in the shade or other cool areas
- Be aware that physical activity in a hot, dry climate can lead to loss of water, salt (sodium) and other electrolytes in perspiration
- Provide plenty of water for workers before, during and after physical activities
- Maintain a cool work environment with fans and air conditioning when possible
- When working outdoors, require workers to wear sunscreen and approved sunglasses
- Urge employees to get plenty of sleep and eat light, nutritious meals
By providing useful information and staying vigilant, employers can reduce the added risks of injury that summer can bring. Be safe out there!