Heat illness doesn’t just affect the elderly and sick; it can happen to anyone who works in the heat for too long, including you. Outdoor and shop workers are among those most at risk for heat stroke and heat-related illnesses.
Therefore, it’s your responsibility to know the risks of heat illness, how to avoid it, and what to do if you or someone else might be suffering from it.
Protecting yourself from heat illness starts with monitoring how you feel. By the time most symptoms present, heat illness is already life-threatening.
So, how can you protect yourself from heat illness?
What are the different types of heat illness?
And what signs/symptoms should you be looking for?
Know the signs, know your body, and take greater caution when working outdoors or in the shop.
Types of heat illness
According to the CDC, heat illnesses occur when the body’s core temperature rises too high to cool itself down again, which can result in several different heat-related illnesses.
The different types of heat illnesses each carry different risks and, combined, account for over 3,100 laborers missing work each year. These types include heat exhaustion, heat rash and heat stroke.
- Heat exhaustion occurs after several days of heat exposure and dehydration. Warning signs include a rapid heartbeat, tiredness, weakness and heavy sweating. If left untreated, it can turn into heat stroke.
- Heat rash is less serious than heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It occurs after excessive sweating and is more common in young children. Warning signs include red clusters of pimples and blisters anywhere on the body that sweat is common. To treat heat rash, keep the affected area dry and consider using a dusting powder for comfort.
Heat stroke: seek immediate medical attention
- Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness and is a medical emergency. Warning signs include confusion, nausea, extremely high body temperature (above 103°F) and red, dry skin without sweating. Permanent organ failure or death can occur if the body remains over 105°F for too long, so if you suspect you or someone else is suffering from heat stroke, seek immediate medical attention.
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Preventing heat illnesses
The best way to treat heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Get ahead of heat illness by taking the following steps:
- Conserve your energy. Take it easy at the start of a summer work day or outdoor project. Avoid tiring out too early in the day.
- Wear sunscreen. Not only does sunscreen protect you from sunburn and harmful UV radiation, it also helps keep your core temperature down. Always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply at least every two hours.
- Dress smart. Wear lightweight clothes with a relaxed fit, and wear hats that shade your face and neck.
- Complete your hardest tasks during the coolest part of the day if possible. Over time, your body will acclimate to working in high temperatures, and this step will be less necessary.
- Stay hydrated. By the time you notice you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Aim to drink the equivalent of one glass of water for every 15 to 30 minutes worked when working in extreme heat.
When to seek help
Anytime you feel weak or faint, stop working and rest in the shade if there’s any nearby. You will not be penalized for taking care of yourself. Seek medical attention if you notice heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, nausea, confusion, fainting or a body temperature over 102°F.
If you notice someone with any of the warning signs of heat stroke, move the victim into the shade and ask someone to call for immediate medical assistance. Begin cooling the victim with any means you can.
- Remove heavy clothing and use ice packs, cool towels or wet sheets to cool the victim until their core temperature drops to 101°F.
- Continue to monitor their temperature until medical assistance arrives.
- Remember that heat stroke is a life-threatening condition. If an ambulance is not available or is taking too long, you can always call an emergency room for further instructions.
According to the National Ag Safety Database, 20% of heat stroke victims die. But by learning the signs and symptoms of heat illness, you don’t have to be one of them.
Preventative measures are always the most effective way to stay safe. Remember to take frequent breaks from the heat and stay hydrated. Conserve your energy by working smarter, not harder.
And, most importantly, stay educated and always be able to recognize the warning signs of heat illness in yourself and others. After all, safety is your responsibility. It’s the choices you make that keep accidents from happening—so, drink plenty of water, stay cool, and take care in the heat this summer!