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    August 14, 2023

    What You Need to Know Before Working in Extreme Heat

    Extreme heat is a serious hazard for employees, especially those who work outdoors or in hot environments. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are two of the most common heat-related illnesses, and they can be fatal if not treated promptly. Here’s everything you should know about the dangers of extreme heat, the effects of heat-related illnesses and how to recognize them, and what you can do to protect employees on the job from excessive heat.

    The Dangers of Extreme Heat

    Being exposed to extreme heat for any significant amount of time can cause a number of health problems. These problems include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash, just to name a few. Here’s what each of these heat-related illnesses looks like,

    • Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s temperature rises to 104°F or higher. Symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature, confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness. If heat stroke is not treated, it can lead to brain damage, organ failure, and death.
    • Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is a less serious condition than heat stroke, but it can still be dangerous. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, pale skin, headache, nausea, and muscle cramps. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can progress to heat stroke.
    • Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscle spasms that can occur due to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. They are often caused by strenuous activity in hot weather.
    • Heat rash: Heat rash is a skin rash that occurs when sweat glands become blocked. It is often red and itchy, and it can be painful.

    The Causes of Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

    Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are caused by the body’s inability to cool itself. This can happen when the body is exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time, or when the body is working hard in hot weather.

    Because heat stroke and heat exhaustion are such serious conditions, it’s important to understand what can cause them or what factors can increase the risk of these heat-related illnesses. They include the following:

    • Age: Older adults and young children are more susceptible to heat-related illness.
    • Medical conditions: People with chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are also at increased risk for heat-related illness.
    • Medications: Some medications, such as diuretics and beta-blockers, can increase the risk of heat-related illness.
    • Dehydration: Dehydration can make it difficult for the body to cool itself.
    • Lack of acclimatization: People who are not used to working or exercising in hot weather are more likely to develop heat-related illnesses.

    Understanding the Differences Between Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

    Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are easily the most dangerous extreme heat-related illnesses that someone can suffer from. The symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be similar, which can sometimes make it difficult to identify a heat illness as one versus another. However, there are some key differences, and it’s important to understand those differences so that someone suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion can be treated effectively. Here’s how their symptoms differ.

    • Heat stroke: Symptoms of heat stroke usually develop suddenly and can progress rapidly. They may include:
      • A high body temperature (104°F or higher)
      • Confusion
      • Seizures
      • Loss of consciousness
    • Heat exhaustion: Symptoms of heat exhaustion develop more gradually than heat stroke. They may include:
      • Heavy sweating
      • Pale skin
      • Headache
      • Nausea
      • Muscle cramps

    Treating Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

    Heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. If heat stroke is not treated, it can lead to brain damage, organ failure, and death. Heat exhaustion is less serious than heat stroke, but it can still be dangerous. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can progress to heat stroke.

    Thankfully, treating both heat stroke and heat exhaustion involves identical steps. The treatment for both is to cool the body down as quickly as possible. This can be done by:

    • Moving the person to a cool place
    • Applying cold compresses to the body
    • Fanning the person
    • Giving the person cool fluids to drink
    • Placing the person in a cold bath or shower

    However, it’s important to note that if you suspect that someone has heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Do not leave the person alone until help arrives.

    How to Avoid Suffering from Extreme Heat

    There are several things you can do to avoid suffering from extreme heat, including:

    • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you are not thirsty. Water is the best choice, but you can also drink sports drinks or other fluids that contain electrolytes.
    • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. This will help your body to cool down by evaporation.
    • Avoid strenuous activity in hot weather. If you must work or exercise in hot weather, take frequent breaks in a cool place.
    • Take breaks in a cool place to rest and rehydrate. Find a shady spot or go inside to cool down.
    • Use a buddy system to check on each other. Make sure you have someone with you who can help you if you start to feel unwell.
    • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

    Employers’ Responsibility for Heat Safety

    Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees. This includes taking steps to protect employees from heat-related illness. This means that employers should provide shade and water for employees working in hot environments, schedule work breaks in a cool place, train employees on the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and have a plan in place to deal with heat emergencies.

    Remember that employers who fail to provide a safe work environment for their employees may be held liable for any injuries or illnesses that result. This makes it even more important to have extreme heat safety protocols in place for employees. Not only does doing so protect your company’s workers, but it also safeguards the overall success and productivity of your organization as well.