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April 28, 2022

Heat Illness

Brandon Adamson

As we traverse from spring to early summer it’s time to start thinking about Heat Illness and how it can affect you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over the previous 9 years of records (2011-2019) an average of 38 employees per year die and thousands more become ill due to heat-related illnesses.

Heat Illness is a serious medical condition that occurs when heat exposure exceeds the body’s ability to cool itself. The result is an increase in body core temperature, which could lead to heat cramps or worse, heat stroke. The issue of heat illness in U.S. workers has become so severe that effective April 8, 2022, OSHA launched its National Emphasis Program for protecting workers from heat hazards in indoor and outdoor workplaces.

To protect our workers we first need to understand the different kinds of Heat Illnesses; Heat Rash, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke.  All of these Illnesses are affected by a person’s age, weight, or medical conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure or even the medications one takes.   

Heat Rash it is the most common form of heat illness and is likely to occur in high heat and high humidity, if sweat remains on the skin and isn’t evaporated or dried off it will plug sweat ducts and a rash could appear.  A worker can prevent this by taking regular breaks in the shade and by daily bathing and drying off completely. 

Heat Cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur from the body sweating and the worker drinking lots of water but not replacing the salt that the body loses during sweating.  The low salt levels in the muscles causes the cramping.

Heat Exhaustion is caused by the loss of large amounts of fluid by sweating.  A worker may still be sweating but showing signs of nausea, weakness, fatigue, confusion or headache.  In more serious cases the person could start vomiting or lose consciousness, their skin could be clammy and moist or their complexion is pale or flushed and body temperature will be above 100.4 degrees.  The best remedy for this is to remove the worker from the elements, have them rest in a cool area and drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic and no caffeine).  You should also cool the victim with cold compressions to the head, neck, and face.  All victims of Heat Exhaustion should be taken to a hospital or clinic for medical evaluation and treatment.

Heat Stroke is the most dangerous of all the illnesses and occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly through sweating.  A heat stroke victim’s skin is hot, usually dry, red or spotted, and the body temperature is usually 105 degrees F or higher.  Other symptoms are confusion, delirium, along with convulsions or unconsciousness. Any person with these symptoms needs to seek immediate medical attention before serious injury or death occur.  Immediate first aid while waiting for emergency personnel is paramount to the victim’s wellbeing.  Remove victim to a cool place and saturate their clothing in cool water and continue fanning the victim until paramedics arrive. Early recognition and treatment of heat stroke are the only effective means of preventing permanent brain damage or death. 

To avoid heat Illnesses this summer be sure to take plenty of breaks in shaded areas during high heat, high humidity days, and stay hydrated with both water and electrolytes. Try to complete high physical exertion tasks during early morning to elevate the heat indexes and the stress it places on the body. And most importantly look out for co-workers showing signs of heat illness; if you observe a co-worker showing signs take immediate action to help them.

OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Campaign

OSHA –NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App

Bureau of Labor Statistics