It seems like the summer days get hotter sooner and that heat is staying longer. This is especially true when the days climb into 90° F range and there is high humidity. Combine this hot, humid environment with physical activity and lack of preparation and you could be at risk of heat-related illness.
Did you know that an increase in body temperature of just a few degrees could affect your mental function? An increase of a few more degrees could result in serious injury or death. Heat also can be an underlying factor in an accident, fall, or heart attack. Heat stress is a buildup of body heat. It can be generated either internally (by muscle use) or externally (by the environment), and it affects your body’s natural cooling system. Without proper precautions, this heat buildup can develop into heat exhaustion or heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition.
In part one of our two-part series, we reviewed the three stages of heat illness and what you can do to help when you see someone experiencing them. In part two, we look at several easy-to-follow tips to stay safe when working in high temperatures. When it comes to heat illness, prevention and awareness are key.
- Take your time. If you are not accustomed or acclimated to working in the heat, don’t expect to be able to tolerate it right away. It can take up to two weeks to build up a tolerance for working in hot conditions.
- Adapt your work and pace to the temperature and how you feel. Take breaks as necessary. A simple but potentially life-saving practice is taking a break to cool off in the shade, an air-conditioned building, or a vehicle. This will help prevent your body from overheating. If you don’t have a shady or cool place nearby, reduce your physical effort.
- Keep cool. Stay out of the sun as much as possible. If your job includes physically demanding tasks, try and save those for the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is less intense.
- Wear lightweight clothing if possible, and remember that the risk of heat illness can be greater if you wear certain types of personal protective equipment. If necessary, consider wearing a cooling vest to help keep your body temperature down.
- Stay hydrated—this is essential. Generally, to avoid becoming dehydrated, it is important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. This is particularly true on days when temperatures reach 90°F or higher.
- Avoid ingesting alcohol or caffeine, which can worsen the effects of heat illness.
- Use a sunscreen with a protection factor of SPF 15 or higher.
- Protect yourself from the sun by using a hat, an umbrella, or a tarp to provide shade.
- Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods high in protein as these can increase your metabolic heat.
- Know the signs/stages of heat illness and monitor yourself and your co-workers. If you or anyone is showing signs of heat illness, stop activity, and find a cool place.
When working in high-temperature conditions, always use the buddy system so that you can monitor one another and spot the signs quickly. Heat illness is a serious but easily preventable health risk. During the hot summer months, always remember to watch out for your fellow community members in need. Equipped with the knowledge of how to aid a person in distress, you just may save someone’s life.
Be sure to check out part 1 of this series that covers the three stages of heat illness and what you can do to help.
Disclaimer: The information contained here is intended to be educational in nature only and is not to be construed as medical advice of any kind. Consult your physician if you have medical concerns.