Watch Out for Heat Stress

If you have employees who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments, be aware they may be at risk for heat stress, which can result in serious health issues including heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps or even rashes.

Who’s at risk?

Employees at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and those who work in hot environments such as firefighters, landscapers, public works employees, construction workers, and factory workers.

Factors that increase the risk of heat stress include:

  • High temperature and humidity
  • Direct sun exposure
  • Indoor exposure to other sources of radiant heat
  • Limited air movement
  • Low fluid consumption
  • Physical exertion
  • Heavy personal protective clothing
  • Poor physical condition or health problems
  • Advanced age (65+)
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Lack of acclimation to hot environments
  • Overuse/abuse of alcohol, caffeine, drugs and certain prescription medications

Types of Heat Stress

While there are many ways heat stress manifests itself, a few of the most common health issues include:

Heat Stroke

This is the most dangerous heat-related disorder, occurring when the body’s temperature rises rapidly and is unable to cool down. Body temps can rise to 104°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes, which can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech

To treat an employee with heat stroke:

  • Call 911 immediately and notify a supervisor.
  • Move the worker to a cool or shaded area.
  • Cool the worker by soaking their clothes with water; spraying, sponging, or showering them with water; or fanning their body.

Heat Exhaustion

This is the body’s response to the loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are the elderly, those with high blood pressure and those working in a hot environment. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy, moist skin
  • Pale or flushed complexion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Slightly elevated body temperature
  • Fast and shallow breathing

To assist a worker suffering from heat exhaustion, make sure to:

  • Provide a place to rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area.
  • Offer plenty of water or other cool, non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Provide a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps can occur following profuse sweating during strenuous activity, which depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps.

Symptoms manifest themselves in the form of muscle pain or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs.

Employees with heat cramps should:

  • Immediately cease all physical activity.
  • Sit in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or sports beverages.
  • Refrain from strenuous work for a few hours after the cramps stop, as further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Seek medical attention if any of the following apply:

  • The individual has heart problems.
  • The individual is on a low-sodium diet.
  • The cramps do not subside within one hour.

Prevention is Key

Take the following steps to protect employees from heat stress:

  • Schedule maintenance in hot areas for cooler months.
  • Schedule strenuous jobs during cooler times of the day.
  • Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments.
  • Assign extra workers for physically demanding jobs.
  • Provide cool water or liquids to workers.
  • Provide cool areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of heat stress.

Employees should take the following steps to prevent heat stress:

  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.
  • Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity.
  • Drink water frequently — approximately one cup every 15-20 minutes.
  • Avoid beverages with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.

Salt Tablets — What You Should Know:

Salt tablets are not recommended and should only be taken on the direct advice of a physician. Sufficient salt levels to replace any lost in sweat can typically be attained through food. In cases of extreme sweating, extra salt can be added to food to supplement.

If you have questions about preventing heat stress at your organization, contact your United Heartland Loss Control representative today. Not a customer? Find an agent near you!