It is mid-July. The sun arcs overhead, beating down on concrete buildings, metal structures, and black tar parking lots. The energy cooks every surface; swelling rooms with thick, humid heat. Factories turn to saunas, vehicles to ovens, and even those lucky enough to work outside are still exposed to the heat radiating from above. Heat Stress is a real danger when summer heat is combined with high stress, constricting work clothes, and fatigue.
What is Heat Stress?
There are a variety of illnesses or conditions that fall under the term Heat Stress. Employees that work in hot conditions are all susceptible. These conditions can be found in a sweltering office building, bakeries, kitchens, outdoors, or in a factory. Essentially, when the air temperature is near, at, or above body temperature the human system has a difficult time ridding the body of excess heat. Instead, the body stores the heat. Consequently, this raises the body’s core temperature. The term “Heat Stress” describes the numerous problems triggered by the elevation of the core temperature. These problems include: heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke are the two most severe.
Who is at risk of Heat Stress?
Heat stress can effect anyone under the proper conditions. However, there are various outside factors that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to overheating. For example, employees who carry excess fat run a greater risk of Heat Stress as the body has a harder time regulating body heat in overweight individuals. Age is a factor as well. Older employees are at a higher risk for Heat Stress than their younger counterparts. Children are also more vulnerable, although this is somewhat irrelevant for the workplace, it is important to remember. Various diseases also increase the potential for Heat Stress. Heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, or kidney disease all translate to an elevated risk.
There are also a number of substances that can intensify the effects of Heat Stress. Any person on diet pills, tranquilizers, or sedatives is vulnerable to more intense symptoms. Additionally, caffeine and alcohol consumption prior to, or during, heat exposure can increase the level at which symptoms are experienced.
What are signs/symptoms of Heat Stroke/Heat Exhaustion?
The symptoms of Heat Exhaustion vary greatly, and can appear very quickly. As the body’s core temperature rises, an individual may experience heavy sweating, thirst and fatigue. As the condition worsens, common symptoms include nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, headaches, and even fainting. Heat Exhaustion can develop into Heat Stroke if it is not treated.
Heat Stroke symptoms are more severe than those of Heat Exhaustion. Excessive sweating, confusion, and a very high body temperature are all initial signs of Heat Stroke. However, more intense symptoms include loss of consciousness and seizures. Heat stroke is the most severe form of Heat Stress.
What First Aid should be applied?
If a coworker seems to be suffering from a kind of Heat Stress there are First Aid steps that should be taken immediately. Heat Exhaustion is not as dangerous as Heat Stroke, thus 911 can be called at the discretion of the people present. However, for Heat Stroke, call emergency services right away and do not leave the person’s side. For both Heat Exhaustion and Heat stroke, if possible, move the individual to a cooler location (shaded area, dark area, etc.). Removing the clothes of the individual can help lower body temperature. If there is access to water then apply cool, damp cloths directly to the skin on the forehead or neck. If the individual is conscious, then give them water or juice to drink.
What steps can be taken to protect employees from Heat Stress?
Employers and employees can both take steps to help reduce the chances of Heat Stress. Often, it takes a few weeks for new employees to grow accustomed to high temperatures in the workplace. For employers, this means introducing new employees in gradual fashion to let them acclimate to the conditions. Employers can also adjust work schedules and workloads in order to reduce heat exposure. Employing appropriate employees is important as well. Older workers, workers with heart or lung conditions, and workers on certain medications should not be placed in the hottest areas of the worksite, or not hired at all.
Employees have a hand in reducing the chances of Heat Stress as well. Workers are the only ones who can tell how they are feeling. They need to be aware of the symptoms of heat stress, and ready to take a break if they need one. Wearing the right work clothes and the proper protection is very important as well. Hats protect against direct sunlight, and lighter clothing doesn’t trap body heat, allowing the body to regulate its temperature more effectively. Employees need to be vocal about conditions as well. If it is too hot, then speak up.
The summer months are on their way, and the heat will only exacerbate already hot working conditions. This summer, protect your employees by being aware of the dangers of Heat Stress. Train workers on First Aid protocol, teach the symptoms of Heat Stress, and allow workers proper time to adjust to hot conditions.