Exposure to different levels of heat can occur across an array of different occupations, making it a hazard for many types of employees. Whether personnel work indoors or outside, anyone not acclimated to higher temperatures, encountering high temperatures or humidity, performing heavy physical labor, or with a low liquid intake is at risk for a heat related illness. Heat exposure can cause illness and death, with the most severe heat-related illness being heat stroke. However, heat exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis, fainting, heat cramps, and heat rash are all illnesses that can result from heat stress. It is vital to not only to take necessary steps to prevent heat related illnesses but to recognize their symptoms and react properly.

HEAT STROKE

Of the heat-related illnesses, heat stroke is considered the most severe. When the body cannot regulate its temperature, it rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body cannot cool itself down. The body can rise to temperatures upwards of 106 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 to 15 minutes, potentially resulting in death or permanent disability if treatment is not provided. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, slurred speech, altered mental status, loss of consciousness, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating, seizures, and extremely high body temperatures. Emergency personnel should be contacted immediately, and the worker should be moved to a shaded cool area. The outer layer of clothing should be removed, and they should be placed in a cold water or ice bath if possible. If not, cold wet cloths should be placed on the head, neck, armpits, and groin.


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HEAT Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the body’s reaction to losing too much water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Older workers and those with higher blood pressure are more prone to heat exhaustion. Its symptoms can include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, high body temperature, and decreased urine production. Workers suffering from heat exhaustion should be taken to the ER for medical evaluation, removed from the hot area, and provided with liquids to drink. Unnecessary clothing should be removed, and they should be cooled with cold compresses.

rhabdomyolysis

When employees are exposed to heat stress and prolonged physical exertion, the rapid breakdown, rupture and death of muscle can occur in a medical condition known as rhabdomyolysis. With the death of the muscle tissue, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream potentially causing irregular heart rhythms, seizures, and damage to the kidneys. Muscle cramps/pain, abnormally dark urine, weakness, and inability to tolerate exercise can all be symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, but it can also be asymptomatic. All activity should stop, the worker should hydrate, and medical care should be sought. A blood test for creatine kinase would be required to confirm rhabdomyolysis.

preventing heat-related illnesses

Heat related illness can be prevented. When a heat hazard cannot be removed or substituted, engineering controls are the next step in the hierarchy of control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that employers increase air velocity (with air conditioning, fans, etc.), use reflective or heat absorbing shielding or barriers, and take actions to reduce steam leaks, wet floors, and humidity.  Where heat exposure cannot be engineered out of a process, the CDC has additional administrative or work practice recommendations. Employers should try and limit time in heat or increase recovery time in a cool environment as well as provide adequate amounts of cool, potable water while encouraging frequent hydration. Water should be potable and under 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers should receive individual drinking cups and if performing moderate activity in the heat for less than two hours, drink one 8-ounce cup of water every 15 – 20 minutes.


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It is also possible to reduce the metabolic demands of a job through actions such as providing specialized tools or increasing the number of workers per task. Finally, all supervisors and workers should be trained on heat stress, employers should implement heat alert programs to notify personnel about impending heat waves and implement a heat acclimation and physical fitness plan. Acclimatization is when beneficial physiological adaptations, such as increased sweating efficiency, emerge after gradually increasing exposure too a hot environment. Prior to allowing employees to work in a hot environment, employers should ensure they are acclimatized. Employees should gradually increase their time in hot conditions over seven to fourteen days. When a worker is inexperienced in hot environments, their first day should not exceed 20% of the usual duration of work in heat with no more than a 20% increase each day after, with non-physically fit workers requiring more time to fully acclimatize. New employees should be closely supervised over their first 14 days or until they are fully acclimatized. If an employee has worked in a hot environment before, their first shift should not exceed 50% of the normal duration, increasing to 60% on day two, 80% on day three, and a full shift on the fourth day.

Stauffer Glove & Safety can provide the products needed to mitigate heat related hazards and keep employees cool. From drink dispensers and electrolyte drinks to cooling vests, sweatbands and bandanas, Stauffer is dedicated to keeping workers protected, hydrated, and cooled off.