According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), historically, from 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined! In order to reduce the risk of heat stress, employers and employees need to be focused on prevention.
Prevention guidelines from the CDC
Drink plenty of fluids – During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Do not wait until you are thirsty. During heavy exertion in hot environments, drink two to four glasses (16 to 32 ounces) of cool fluid each hour.
Do not drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar as these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. WARNING: Consult your doctor if you are on water pills or if your water intake is being regulated.
Replace salts and minerals – Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body to properly function and must be replaced. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking sports beverages or taking salt tablets.
Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen – Chose lightweight, light-colored, loose fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damage to the skin. If you must work outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply sunscreen according to the package directions.
Schedule outdoor activities carefully Try to limit outdoor work to the earlier or later hours of the day to avoid the higher temperatures of midday. Rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.
Adjust to the environment – Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat.
Pace yourself – If you are not accustomed to working in a hot environment, start slowly and pick the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused weak, or faint.
Use a buddy system – When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness.
Monitor those at high risk – Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others such as those who become dehydrated and are susceptible to heat sickness, people who are overweight, those who are physically ill (especially with heart disease or high blood pressure) and those over age 65.
Know how to respond to hot weather health emergencies – first aid training will help you to recognize the types of heat stress and how to respond. For example, heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical assistance. It is best to ensure that you and your employees have received basic first aid training.
For more information about protecting workers from heat-related illnesses visit:
Extreme Heat Guide: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
Heat Stress at CDC: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/