By Isayah Hickson, BWC Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow
A glance at the thermometer tells the story: we’re officially in the dog days of summer.
This means we’re in the hottest part of the season and at greater risk of heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. So, what’s the difference between the two?
Heat exhaustion is a result of the body
overheating. Common symptoms may include heavy sweating, dizziness, fainting, and rapid pulse.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. It occurs when the body’s core temperature rises too high and its natural cooling system stops working. Symptoms may include an altered mental state, lack of perspiration, rash, muscle cramps, exhaustion, and stroke.
Who is at risk?
The risk of heat illness is greatest for workers in hot/humid environments and outdoor workers. People who are obese, have high blood pressure, heart disease, and those over 65 years old may be more susceptible to heat illnesses.
Below are helpful reminders when working in heat and humidity.
- Drink one glass (or equivalent) of water every 15 to 30 minutes worked, depending on conditions.
- Take frequent breaks (five to 10 minutes per hour) to cool down and replenish.
- Know how prescription drugs you take react to sun and heat exposure.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and non-prescribed drugs.
- Build up tolerance to the heat (called acclimatization) by initially limiting the physical activity and exposure to the heat and gradually increasing these over a one- to two-week period.
- Manage work activities and pair them to employees’ physical conditions. Adapt work and pace to the weather.
- Use special protective gear (if available), such as cooling garments and cooling vests on “early entry” workers.
- Know and review first-aid techniques for heat-related conditions.
There’s an app for that
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed a smart phone app – the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool – to assess heat stress risk where outdoor activities are planned. You can download it on the App Store or Google Play.