7 Tips for Avoiding Heat Illness
While the mention of summer often sparks images of fun in the sun, we need to remember that summertime heat and humidity puts workers at risk. The high temps of summer can cause heat illnesses, which include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash.
Luckily, heat-related illnesses are preventable. And while you can’t control the weather, you can take the following precautions to help manage the effects of the summer heat.
Gradually increase exposureEmployees who are new to outdoor work or those who have been away from work for more than a week, are more sensitive to intense heat. Introduce these employees to the heat for short periods of time and gradually increase their exposure over the next few days. Once their bodies acclimate to these conditions, they will adjust more easily to the heat throughout the summer months.
Sip cool waterIt’s critical to drink plenty of water when it’s hot outside. Try to consume one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes to maintain good hydration. But be sure to take sips of cool water throughout the day instead of gulping down lots of cold water at once.
Take breaks when necessaryAcknowledge when you need a break from the sun and find shade or an air-conditioned area to cool down in. Giving your body time to cool and refresh helps your body maintain a healthy temperature. Protect your workers by building breaks into the workday and encouraging employees to rest when necessary.
Be extra cautious with protective gearWorking outside when the temperature and humidity are high is dangerous enough on its own—add protective gear and your risk of heat illness increases. It can be difficult for air to circulate through protective garments, so take extra caution when wearing them.
Regularly monitor the weather forecastCheck the weather forecast every morning so you know what to expect that day. If you can rearrange your team’s schedule to accommodate weather conditions, do so. Plan outdoor tasks in the morning before the onset of intense heat and work indoor tasks into your afternoon schedule. You can also consider rotating job functions among workers to minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
Avoid dehydrating drinksIf you drink caffeinated or sugary beverages on a regular basis (i.e., coffee, soda or energy drinks), consider taking a break or reducing consumption during the summer months. These dehydrating beverages counteract your efforts to prevent heat illness. Water is the best choice when working outdoors. However, consuming reasonable amounts of sports drinks will help replace the salts and minerals you lose through sweat.
Know the signs and symptomsUnderstanding signs of heat illness can help you identify when you need to seek help. Train your workers to recognize serious heat-related illness symptoms:
- Heat Stoke: Confusion, fainting, seizures, excessive sweating, very high body temperature, and red, hot, or dry skin
- Heat Exhaustion: Cool/moist skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, light headedness, weakness, thirst, irritability and fast heart beat
- Heat Cramps: Muscle spasms and pain (usually in abdomen, arms or legs)
- Heat Rash: Clusters of red bumps on skin (often on the neck and upper chest)
If you notice symptoms of severe heat illness in yourself or others, call 911 immediately and keep the person cool until help arrives. Do not continue working if you feel ill.
People who have high blood pressure, heart disease or a history of heat illness are at a greater risk for heat illness and should take special precautions.