Heat Stress & Heat-Related Illnesses
Summertime in Texas is hot, humid, and it can be dangerous; it can even be deadly. Working in the heat poses special hazards to employees. At McCourt Equipment, our employees need to know what the hazards are, how to recognize them, and know-how to prevent and respond to them.
Heat stress occurs when humidity, air temperature, radiant heat, and too little air movement, combined with heavy work, raises the body’s temperature beyond safe limits. The body tries to reduce the strain of excessive heat by sweating and increasing the blood flow to the skin to promote cooling. When physical exertion or exposure to heat increases to a point where the body’s attempt to cool off are no longer effective, a heat-related illness will occur.
Listed in the table below are the common heat-related illnesses with their accompanying symptoms and appropriate first aid measures.
The heat stress index is a measure that takes into account the relative humidity. It measures how a given air temperature feels to the “average” person at a given relative humidity.
The heat-related chart lists heat index values of a shady location, assuming a 5.6 mph wind. When exposed to direct sunlight, the heat can increase by 15°.
How to Prevent Heat Stress
In many cases, heat stress is preventable and can be reduced by putting in preventable practices.
- General and local exhaust ventilation in high heat areas
- Shielding of radiant heat sources
- Use of portable air conditioning, Port-a-cools, and portable ventilation fans
- Clothing & PPE: When possible, wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, such as cotton, a material that allows evaporation of the sweat. Wear light colors as they absorb less heat than darker colors. If working out in the sun, assure the hard hat worn has a wide brim to help the sun stay off of your face and head.
Utilize cool vests to maintain and minimize increases in core body temperature.
- Drinking: Drink plenty of liquids – water and electrolyte replacement drinks, such as Gatorade, are recommended. An average of one quart per hour may be needed to replace the fluid loss from sweating, especially if urine is dark yellow, which indicates dehydration. With caffeine being a diuretic beverages such as cola, iced tea, and coffee should be avoided. Thirst is not always a positive sign that the body needs fluids. Stay alert to dehydration, which can occur after several days of working in a hot environment. If fluid losses do not get replaced daily, progressive dehydration will reduce the ability to function normally and make people more susceptible to heat stress.
- Work Schedule: If possible, do heavy, strenuous job duties at early hours or later hours, where temperatures will be cooler. If not possible, then move heavy work to cooler areas. Be aware of the heat index throughout the day, as a general guideline, when the heat index reaches 95°, begin to limit work activities, and take additional rest breaks. Further, limit work activities and implement additional heat stress precautions for higher heat index values.
- Acclimatization: New employees, transfers, employees returning to work from an extended absence, or if an employee is not accustomed to being in heat, they should gradually increase heat and intense work exposures over five days to acclimate themselves.
Whether at work or home, heat stress is a real hazard to co-workers and family. Stay aware of the symptoms of heat stress and know how to respond, and when in doubt, call for professional medical attention.