With temperatures skyrocketing during the summertime months, the workplace can be dangerous if you are not effectively prepared. Although some people assume outdoor workers are the only ones who need to be concerned with high temperatures, indoor workers are not completely off the hook. Heat can affect any worker simply by producing sweaty palms or even fogged up glasses, which increase the risk for injuries. Working in an outdoor setting often misleads people to think that outside is the only place where heat can be dangerous. Many people working in an indoor location stress (firefighters, bakers, boiler room workers, factory workers, etc.) are equally at risk for developing heat stress complications. Here are the most common forms of heat stress and their symptoms.
1. Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most extreme and risky heat illness. It happens when the body can no longer control its own temperature. In other words, the body’s temperature rises very fast in a short period of time, the body’s sweating mechanism ultimately fails, meaning the body cannot cool itself off. If emergency treatment isn’t sought immediately, heat stroke can cause permanent disability or even death. Symptoms include: Hallucinations; Hot, dry skin, or extreme sweating; Chills; Pounding headache; High body temperature; Confusion/dizziness; Slurred speech; Fainting or collapsing; Having seizures (fits).
2. Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is the bodies reaction to a significant loss of water and salt, which usually happens from sweating profusely. Symptoms include: Excessive sweating; Pale or flushed complexion; Headache, dizziness, or fainting; Extreme weakness or lethargy; Irritability, confusion; Dehydration, nausea or vomiting; Muscle cramps; Slightly raised body temperature; Fast and shallow breathing.
3. Heat Syncope: Heat syncope is simply a fainting episode or dizziness spell that happens with continuous standing or suddenly getting up from a sitting or laying down position. Symptoms include: Light-headedness; Dizziness; Fainting.
4. Heat Cramps: Heat cramps usually affect workers who intensely sweat while doing labor-intensive activities. Heat cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion so it is important not to brush cramps off. Symptoms include: Muscle pain; Spasms usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs.
5. Heat Rash: Heat rash is a skin irritation due to extreme sweating from hot or humid weather. Symptoms: Heat rash looks like a red cluster of small blisters or pimples; Most likely to appear on the neck/upper chest, on the groin, under the breasts, or in elbow creases.
How employers can help prevent heat stress:
- Provide training about the conditions leading to heat illnesses and how to prevent them
- Supply lots of cool water and hydration formulas at the workplace in close range to staff
- Schedule numerous rest periods and water breaks in shaded spaces and/or air conditioned areas
- Regularly check workers who are at risk of heat stress due to factors such as protective clothing and very high temperatures
- Consider protective clothing that provides cooling
- OSHA’s Water, Rest, Shade campaign offers some great resources on heat illness prevention. There is even a smartphone heat-index app available.
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