Identify the signs and symptoms of Heat Illness

By Rich Gaul, Safety Technical Advisor

What do constructions workers, school kitchen workers, and the high school students mowing your lawn all have in common? They could potentially be at risk for heat illness, and they should take appropriate precautions.

With the warm summer months fast approaching, employers and their workers must protect themselves from the dangers of heat illness. Although we typically associate heat illness with outdoor work, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions, whether outdoors or indoors, is at risk of heat illness. And, heat illness is not just a work-related problem. Exertional heat stroke is the second leading cause of death among athletes.

Heat illness occurs when heat builds up in the body faster than the body can cool itself. Heat-related illnesses may include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is very serious because it requires immediate medical attention and can lead to death if left untreated. The progression of these stages of illness can be gradual or very rapid.

Symptoms of heat illness:

  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Extreme sweating.
  • Fainting.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness.

If you begin to experience heat-related symptoms, you should:

  • Notify someone you are experiencing heat illness symptoms and have them summon help.
  • Find a cool place to lay down, rest, and elevate your feet.
  • Drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
  • Loosen or remove as much clothing as possible.
  • Place cold wet towels around your neck, under your armpits, and across your chest.
  • Seek medical attention if you do not feel better within 30 minutes.

If you observe someone experiencing symptoms of heat stroke (confusion, slurred speech, seizures, very high body temperature, rapid heart rate, unconsciousness) call 911 immediately. When in doubt, call 911. Heat-related illnesses may appear less severe than they really are.

For additional information about heat illness prevention, attend BWC’s virtual training class on Thermal Stress on June 9, 2021 or read BWC’s Heat Stress Safety Talk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website provides workers and employers with additional information and resources on heat illnesses and how to prevent it, including heat stress prevention QuickCards available in both English and Spanish. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also has information on preventing heat-related illness at work in its May 7, 2021 blog.

Feeling the heat? Stay safe with preventive measures

By Isayah Hickson, BWC Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow

Click on graphic for full size image. Courtesy of the National Weather Service.

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.

Prevention methods
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.