Heat Stress 101 (Part 2)
In part one of our series on “Heat Stress” we found out what heat stress is. In part two I would like to go over the causes and the various heat related illnesses, what you need to know and what to look for. It’s a topic most of us don’t really think about, we work and exercise in the heat every day. Most people just throw on some sunscreen, drink some water and think that’s all there is to it. But let’s face it, heat related illnesses are very real and can have deadly consequences if you’re not careful.
Age, weight, degree of physical fitness, degree of acclimatization, metabolism, use of alcohol or drugs, and a variety of medical conditions such as hypertension all affect a person’s sensitivity to heat. However, even the type of clothing worn must be considered. Prior heat injury can lead an individual to additional injury. It is difficult to predict just who will be affected and when, because individual susceptibility varies. In addition, environmental factors include more than the ambient air temperature. Radiant heat, air movement, conduction, and relative humidity all affect an individual’s response to heat.
HEAT DISORDERS AND HEALTH EFFECTS
- Occurs when the body’s system of temperature regulation fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. This condition is caused by a combination of highly variable factors, and its occurrence is difficult to predict. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. The primary signs and symptoms of heat stroke are confusion; irrational behavior; loss of consciousness; convulsions; a lack of sweating (usually); hot, dry skin; and an abnormally high body temperature, e.g., a rectal temperature of 41°C (105.8°F). If body temperature is too high, it causes death. The elevated metabolic temperatures caused by a combination of work load and environmental heat load, both of which contribute to heat stroke, are also highly variable and difficult to predict.
- If a worker shows signs of possible heat stroke, professional medical treatment should be obtained immediately. The worker should be placed in a shady area and the outer clothing should be removed. The worker’s skin should be wetted and air movement around the worker should be increased to improve evaporative cooling until professional methods of cooling are initiated and the seriousness of the condition can be assessed. Fluids should be replaced as soon as possible. The medical outcome of an episode of heat stroke depends on the victim’s physical fitness and the timing and effectiveness of first aid treatment.
- Regardless of the worker’s protests, no employee suspected of being ill from heat stroke should be sent home or left unattended unless a physician has specifically approved such an order.
- The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, vertigo, weakness, thirst, and giddiness. Fortunately, this condition responds readily to prompt treatment. Heat exhaustion should not be dismissed lightly, however, for several reasons. One is that the fainting associated with heat exhaustion can be dangerous because the victim may be operating machinery or controlling an operation that should not be left unattended; moreover, the victim may be injured when he or she faints. Also, the signs and symptoms seen in heat exhaustion are similar to those of heat stroke, a medical emergency.
- Workers suffering from heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot environment and given fluid replacement. They should also be encouraged to get adequate rest.
- Are usually caused by performing hard physical labor in a hot environment. These cramps have been attributed to an electrolyte imbalance caused by sweating. It is important to understand that cramps can be caused by both too much and too little salt. Cramps appear to be caused by the lack of water replenishment. Because sweat is a hypotonic solution (±0.3% NaCl), excess salt can build up in the body if the water lost through sweating is not replaced. Thirst cannot be relied on as a guide to the need for water; instead, water must be taken every 15 to 20 minutes in hot environments.
- Under extreme conditions, such as working for 6 to 8 hours in heavy protective gear, a loss of sodium may occur. Recent studies have shown that drinking commercially available carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids is effective in minimizing physiological disturbances during recovery.
HEAT COLLAPSE (“Fainting”)
In heat collapse, the brain does not receive enough oxygen because blood pools in the extremities. As a result, the exposed individual may lose consciousness. This reaction is similar to that of heat exhaustion and does not affect the body’s heat balance. However, the onset of heat collapse is rapid and unpredictable. To prevent heat collapse, the worker should gradually become acclimatized to the hot environment.
Is the most common problem in hot work environments. Prickly heat is manifested as red papules and usually appears in areas where the clothing is restrictive. As sweating increases, these papules give rise to a prickling sensation. Prickly heat occurs in skin that is persistently wet by unevaporated sweat, and heat rash papules may become infected if they are not treated. In most cases, heat rashes will disappear when the affected individual returns to a cool environment.
A factor that predisposes an individual to heat fatigue is lack of acclimatization. The use of a program of acclimatization and training for work in hot environments is advisable. The signs and symptoms of heat fatigue include impaired performance of skilled sensorimotor, mental, or vigilance jobs. There is no treatment for heat fatigue except to remove the heat stress before a more serious heat-related condition develops.
I’ve given you the bad news about working and exercising in the sun, Heat related illnesses are very serious, and you need to pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling when you’re outside in the middle of summer. We all love being outdoors enjoying the fresh air and sun. In my next article I will discuss the things you need to do to prevent the damaging effects of the sun. You can still work and enjoy yourself, you just need to be careful, and take precautions.
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