Updated: July 9, 2020
When the temperatures rise, illnesses such as heat stress can become an issue that affects us both in the workplace and at home. Heat stress occurs when the body begins to lose the ability to cool itself, and can develop into much more complicated medical issues if untreated.
Early prevention is the key to staying away from the issues associated with heat stress, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Several factors influence heat stress, such as air temperature, humidity, low fluid consumption, physical exertion, poor physical condition, acclimation, and some medications. The best prevention for heat stress is proper hydration (8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes), periodic breaks, and rotation of strenuous job tasks. It is also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stress and act accordingly when they are recognized.
Heat Cramps are muscle pains usually caused by physical labor in a hot work environment. Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. To avoid further heat stress illnesses, have the person replace fluids lost during sweating by drinking water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids.
Heat Exhaustion is the body’s response to the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, you may need to perform the following first aid:
Heatstroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness – occurs when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heatstroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately. While waiting for help try to do the following:
|Heat Index||Risk Level||Protective Measures|
|Less than 91°F||Lower (Caution)||Basic heat safety and planning|
|91°F to 103°F||Moderate||Implement precautions and heighten awareness|
|103°F to 115°F||High||Additional precautions to protect workers|
|Greater than 115°F||Very High to Extreme||Triggers even more aggressive protective measures|
Currently, with the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is important to be aware of your body and signals it may be giving related to possible illness. It is also important to be on the lookout for heat stress, heat cramps, and heatstroke. The need to wear a mask or facial covering to protect yourself from this deadly respiratory illness can potentially add to the body’s inability to cool itself. When physically working in hot or humid conditions it is suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to find alternatives to wearing a mask. Some alternatives include physically distancing oneself from others, using a face shield, or using a cooling bandana/neck wrap as an alternative to a paper mask.
Remember to monitor yourself for heat-related illness, ensure you drink plenty of water, and if working outside is absolutely necessary work in shady areas or create your own shade with a pop-up tent/umbrella.