The following is a safety alert by The Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.
According to NOAA, “Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. On average, more than 1,500 people in the U.S. die each year from excessive heat. This number is greater than the 30-year mean annual number of deaths due to tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined”. Heat illness is a real threat to outdoor workers during the summer.
This hazard increases with age. NOAA maintains an informative site on weather alerts and safety precautions relating to heat alerts at http://www.noaawatch.gov/themes/heat.php
Heat related illnesses often occur most early in the summer season when workers have not acclimated themselves to the hot conditions. The body’s cooling system works basically by blood circulating closer to the surface of the skin so heat is lost. The body sends sweat to the surface to be evaporated, also cooling the skin. This system works well until the outside temperature reaches or exceeds the body temperature. Then it becomes less effective.
This year OSHA is promoting an outreach initiative. This campaign has a very clear simple message – “water, rest and shade”. This initiative is driven by the number of injuries each year due to heat related illnesses.
Heat related illnesses are usually grouped into three broad categories:
Heat Stress symptoms include heat rash, cramps or fainting. These symptoms can usually be relieved by getting out of the sun, drinking fluids, reducing physical activity and cooling off by fanning or getting into an air conditioned environment. Heat rash requires keeping the skin as clean and dry as possible.
Heat Exhaustion is more severe and requires more attention. It usually is the result of the body becoming dehydrated. The worker will feel light headed, nauseated, dizzy or week. Sometimes a headache, mood changes or confusion will result. The skin may become clammy, flushed or pale and the body temperature will start to rise. The individual may not even realize they are in trouble. Treatment includes getting the person out of the sun, hydrated and cooled off. Never give them water if not fully conscious. Loosen tight clothing, mist with water or apply a damp cloth and fan the person. Failure to recognize and treat heat exhaustion may result in the person progressing on to the next level of heat related illness.
Heat Stroke is a very serious health issue. The body temperature can quickly reach temperatures of 106 degrees or more. The skin becomes hot and dry to the touch. The body’s cooling system is no longer able to cool itself and begins shutting down. The person becomes confused or delirious, suffers from convulsions or seizures and usually will collapse. Without medical attention, the person will likely suffer brain and other vital organ damage or even death. Treatment requires dialing 911 immediately. While waiting for medical help, if the person is conscious, provide plenty of water and get them out of the sun. Loosen tight clothing and cool the person off by wetting their cloths or applying ice to the neck area, armpits and groin. Insist the person seek medical attention.
Even with mild symptoms of heat stress, heat promotes incidents. As workers experience decreased strength and increased fatigue, they tend to shortcut safety procedures. They tend to not wear safety equipment, become irritable and are easily angered. Rational thinking and decision making are also affected as our body temperatures rise.
Some general precautions can be practiced to reduce our chances for heat related illnesses. Wear loose, light colored clothing and cover as much exposed skin as possible. Drink plenty of fluids. Even if you’re not thirsty, drink a cup of water every 20 to 30 minutes while working outside. Stay away from drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Do not eat a heavy lunch. Cut down on internal heat producing, high protein meals and eat lighter during the summer months. Know the symptoms of heat related illnesses and watch out for each other. If you are ever in doubt if a person is experiencing heat exhaustion or a heat stroke, error on the side of caution, have them checked out by a medical professional.