Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer—pools open, kids and teachers get out of school, and the weather begins to warm up. As the hot season approaches, outdoor workers need to be aware of the signs of heat illness and what can be done to prevent it. If you have a job that requires you to be outside for extended periods of time, you should stay informed of the health risks involved and how you can stay safe.
Common Health Risks Caused by Heat:
Workers who develop heat illnesses are at greater risk for accidents because their bodies are not functioning properly; they could be less alert and confused. Knowing the signs of hot weather health emergencies can help you know what to do if one occurs.
- Heat Stroke– Heat stroke is the most serious heat related health problem for outdoor workers. It occurs when the body becomes unable to regulate its temperature. Body temperature rises quickly and the body stops sweating. A person experiencing heat stroke might notice a headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and, in some cases may pass out. If you recognize signs, immediately try to cool your body with shade, cool water, fanning, etc. Call 911 right away to find out what to do next.
- Heat Exhaustion– Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses an excessive amount of water and salt through sweating. During intense activity in the heat, individuals can sweat off 2-6% of their bodyweight. That could be up to 9 pounds for a 150-pound person! Symptoms of heat exhaustion include paleness, drowsiness, weakness, heavy sweating, and nausea. If you recognize these signs take a break, move to the shade, and drink plenty of water. If severe, seek medical attention before the condition worsens to heat stroke.
- Heat Cramps– Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur when you lose too much body salt through excessive sweating. Avoid heat cramps by refueling with sports drinks and taking breaks throughout your shift.
- Fainting– Fainting might occur if a person is not accustomed to hot environments, and isn’t moving a lot. The blood vessels enlarge, and blood doesn’t get pumped to the brain. Try to keep moving, stay cool, and drink plenty of water.
- Sunburn– Sunburn is damaging to the skin, but can be prevented by wearing sunscreen and making sure your skin is covered by lightweight clothing.
Staying Safe in the Sun:
Heat related illnesses are dangerous, but they’re also preventable. Follow these tips to make sure you stay safe working outside this summer.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
- Be sure to apply sunscreen throughout the day.
- Know the symptoms of heat illnesses, and when to seek medical attention.
- Drink plenty of water and sports drinks, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Try to eat only light meals and snacks when working in extreme temperatures.
- Take plenty of breaks to give your body a chance to cool down.
- If possible, modify your schedule to avoid working in the hottest parts of the day.
For more information, read the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) article about Occupational Heat Exposure.