The Hazards Of Heat Stress

Written by Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist

Whether you are outside mowing the lawn, or sitting in an office without adequate air conditioning, heat stress is a very real problem that can become life-threatening, quickly. When you think of heat stress, you may think of sky rocketing temperatures, while standing in the direct sun and extreme physical work, but in truth, heat can affect individuals differently based on their health, hydration levels and tolerance for temperatures. Not all hazards of heat stress are noticed and could be as simple as lowering worker motivation and morale and decreasing work output. Take the time now to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and preventing them before they become a problem.

Signs and Symptoms
Although there are many heat-related illnesses, the most severe is “Heat Stroke”. Heat stroke can occur when the body’s temperature rises rapidly and the rest of the body can’t keep up. Individuals who experience heat stroke generally are not sweating (your body’s natural way of cooling down), have hot, dry skin, are generally confused, may faint or go into a coma and even have seizures. If any of these symptoms occur, call 911 immediately and move the individual to a cool, shaded spot. Put wet clothes or ice on them to rapidly cool them down.

Heat exhaustion is not as life-threatening as a heat stroke, but should still be addressed immediately. It occurs when there is an excessive loss in water and salt in the body after being exposed to heat. It coincides with excessive sweating (hence the loss in salt to retain water). Symptoms may include headaches, weakness, excessive sweating, light-headedness, irritability, and thirst. If caught early on, have the individual take frequent sips of cool water while seated in shade or in front of a fan. If someone is extremely confused, light-headed, or non-responsive, call 911 immediately.

Heat cramps are more common and may lead to one of the aforementioned heat-related illness. Heat cramps are most common in the abdomen, arms, and legs and are a result of dehydration and a lack of salt within the body during more strenuous activity. If you do notice cramps, pain, or spams in any of these parts of the body, drink a sports drink that is going to replenish your electrolytes. If cramps are not going away with an hour, medical attention may be required.

Pre-existing conditions may influence someone’s response to heat. Rhabdomyolysis, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and poor blood circulation, to name a few, lower an individual’s tolerance to heat. Something to consider is just because you feel comfortable, doesn’t mean that someone else’s concern for the heat is invalid. All concerns for high heat levels should be taken seriously and addressed accordingly.

How to Prevent Heat Stress
The most important preventative measure you can take to combat heat stress and heat-related issues is to check the weather and plan accordingly. Also take into account the humidity and the heat index. The heat index is the measure of what the “real feel” temperature is outside. This takes into account the humidity and actual temperature and outputs a temperature that your body will react to. An example of this is when it’s 92 degrees out, with 85% humidity, it can feel like 126 degrees! Plan work accordingly and encourage frequent breaks, hydration and provide shade when working outside at temps above 80 degrees.

Additionally, provide drinks and cold treats. Believe it or not, milk is actually one of the best drinks to maintain hydration, along with coconut water, sports drinks and, of course, water. Additionally, cold treats not only help reduce body core temps, but also increase work morale on hot summer days.

Lastly, have workers trained in CPR and first aid to be able to easily recognize early signs and symptoms and have the knowledge to react to an emergency if one occurs. If you do not have a First Aid, CPR, and AED trainer already, CompOne has certified Red Cross Trainers and are able to come on-site and offer adequate training to help prepare your staff for potential medical emergencies. If you need additional information, please feel free to contact us at: daday@compone.net or 734-309-3456.

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