Keep Your Cool When the Temperature Rises
Greetings everyone. My column this month is opening with some sad news.
Walt Smyser, an honorary life member of FWPCOA, has passed away. Walt was an instructor for the association and faithfully served as its webmaster. He was instrumental in bringing the organization into the 21st century with his efforts in developing our website.
Walt was the deputy public works director for Holly Hill. He held a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. He was a veteran of the United States Navy, serving from 1980 to 1991.
Walt will truly be missed by us all, and may he rest in peace.
Working Safely in the Heat
In this C Factor I would like to take some time to talk about safety; more specifically, about heat-related illnesses. As we approach spring and summer, many of us who work outdoors, and, to a lesser extent, those that do not, are exposed to heat associated with the weather. There are several types of heat-related illnesses.
What are heat-related illnesses?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified that workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat stress. Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness. Burns may also occur as a result of accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam.
Workers at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments, such as firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, and others. Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.
Prevention of heat stress in workers is important. Employers should provide training to workers so they understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented.
What are the different types of heat related illnesses?
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness (coma)
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
- Fatal if treatment delayed
Take the following steps to treat a worker with heat stroke:
- Call 911 for emergency medical care.
- Stay with worker until emergency medical services arrive.
- Move the worker to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing.
- Cool the worker quickly with a cold water or ice bath if possible; wet the skin, place cold wet cloths on skin, or soak clothing with cool water.
- Circulate the air around the worker to speed cooling.
- Place cold wet cloths or ice on head, neck, armpits, and groin; or soak the clothing with cool water.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers most prone to heat exhaustion are those who are elderly, have high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Elevated body temperature
- Decreased urine output
Treat a worker suffering from heat exhaustion with the following:
- Take worker to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment.
- If medical care is unavailable, call 911.
- Someone should stay with worker until help arrives.
- Remove worker from hot area and give liquids to drink.
- Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
- Cool the worker with cold compresses or have the worker wash head, face, and neck with cold water.
- Encourage frequent sips of cool water.
Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion, resulting in the rapid breakdown, rupture, and death of muscle. When muscle tissue dies, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream that can cause irregular heart rhythms and seizures, and damage the kidneys.
Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include:
- Muscle cramps/pain
- Abnormally dark (tea- or cola-colored) urine
- Exercise intolerance
Workers with symptoms of rhabdomyolysis should:
- Stop activity.
- Increase oral hydration (water preferred).
- Seek immediate care at the nearest medical facility.
- Ask to be checked for rhabdomyolysis (i.e., blood sample analyzed for creatine kinase).
Heat syncope is a fainting (syncope) episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and lack of acclimatization.
Symptoms of heat syncope include:
- Fainting (short duration)
- Light-headedness during prolonged standing or suddenly rising from a sitting or lying position
Workers with heat syncope should:
- Sit or lie down in a cool place.
- Slowly drink water, clear juice, or a sports drink.
Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
- Muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs
Workers with heat cramps should:
- Drink water and have a snack and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquid (e.g., sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Avoid salt tablets.
- Get medical help if the worker has heart problems, is on a low-sodium diet, or if cramps do not subside within one hour.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.
Symptoms of heat rash include:
- Looks like red cluster of pimples or small blisters.
- Usually appears on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
Workers experiencing heat rash should:
- When possible, move to a cooler, less humid work environment.
- Keep rash area dry.
- Apply powder to increase comfort.
- Ointments and creams should not be used.
As the temperature begins to rise, keep in mind that these conditions can be serious and may be fatal. Pay attention to these symptoms and take action if you or a fellow worker is showing signs of any of these heat related illnesses.
Here are a few more tips:
- Get acclimated to the heat by exposing yourself gradually.
- Get the more exertive tasks completed in the morning when temperatures are cooler if possible.
- Don’t forget to use sunscreen. Florida has a high rate of skin cancer related to sun exposure.
That’s it for this C Factor. Take care of yourselves and keep cool.
Stay active, make a difference!