With the summer upon us, one concern that always seems to sneak up on workers during high heat periods are heat-related illnesses. Working in a hot, humid environment can be difficult or even fatal if you ignore the signs and symptoms of heat-related disorders.
Heat can create a number of safety problems and illnesses due to additional stress on the body. Heat-related illnesses include:
• Heat cramps
• Heat exhaustion
• Heat stroke (which can be fatal if not treated properly)
Heat stress is the body’s response to heat loading. Factors that contribute to heat stress include:
• Environmental heat source
• Amount of exertion required to perform a task
• Amount of time spent in hot or humid conditions
• Type of clothing worn
Operations that involve high air temperatures, radiant heat sources (e.g., direct sunlight), high humidity, strenuous physical activities or direct physical contact with hot objects have the potential to produce heat stress.
Outdoor operations conducted in hot weather – such as construction, welding and aerial line work – can cause heat stress among exposed employees. Other locations include manholes, transformer vaults, generating stations and steam tunnels.
Age, weight, degree of physical fitness, metabolism, use of alcohol or drugs, and a variety of medical conditions such as hypertension all affect a person’s sensitivity to heat. It is difficult to predict just who will be affected and when, as individual susceptibility varies. Other environmental factors include ambient air temperature, radiant heat, air movement, conduction and relative humidity.
It is important to remember that it takes time to get used to working in hot or humid conditions. Acclimatization to heat involves a series of changes that occur in an individual during the first week of exposure to hot environmental conditions. Full acclimatization can take a week. The ability to maintain full acclimatization can be reduced by several days’ absence from work.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
Heat cramps: Heat cramps affect the muscles such as those in your arms, legs and abdomen – mostly the muscles that have been used while working. These cramps may occur after work, when the person is resting. Heat cramps are a signal that the body has lost too much salt through sweating.
Heat exhaustion: Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, pale and clammy skin, quick pulse and low blood pressure. Heat exhaustion is also a warning that the mechanism that controls body heat has become seriously overtaxed. Heat stroke may follow if heat exhaustion is not treated.
Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a serious matter and can be fatal. It occurs when the body’s heat control mechanism simply shuts down. Perspiration stops and body temperature rises. The heart pounds and the skin becomes flushed and hot. This condition is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately.
Tips for preventing heat-related illness this summer:
• Get used to working in heat gradually. For example, if the weather suddenly turns hot or you are transferred to a hot environment, take it easy until you are accustomed to the temperature.
• Drink plenty of water often to avoid dehydration. The body loses water through perspiration, so you need to replenish it frequently. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages because they will cause you to lose even more water and salt.
• Take frequent rest breaks when working in hot and humid conditions. These breaks can consist of moving to a cooler area or switching to lighter work for a while.
• Get a physician’s advice before replacing salt, particularly if your salt intake is restricted for medical reasons such as circulatory problems. The use of salt tablets is not recommended. Eating lightly salted food before entering the work environment may be a better idea. Also available are special drinks intended to replace the body’s fluid and mineral levels.
• Dress lightly in layers so you can subtract or add clothing as the temperature changes. Be sure to shade the skin against the sun.
It is important that you remain alert to the signs of heat illness in yourself and in your co-workers. If signs of heat illness develop, move the victim to a cool place and cool him or her off by fanning or soaking him or her with cool water. If he or she is conscious, give him or her water to drink. If you have any reason to suspect the person may be suffering from heat stroke, call for medical help immediately.video
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