According to the most recent reports released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Weather Service, heat-related illnesses and deaths are on the rise. In 2016, there were approximately 97 deaths related to exposure to environmental heat in comparison to 45 in 2015.
Especially during the summer months, it’s important to take precautions that will keep heat-related illnesses and deaths from occurring. Heat can affect us no matter where we are, but for those often working outdoors, extra steps are needed to stay cool and safe.
Why does a heat-related illness occur?
A heat related illness occurs when there is an increase in the worker's core body temperature above healthy levels. As core temperature rises, the body is less able to perform normal functions and eventually can cause damage to the liver and muscles. If this occurs for a prolonged period, it can lead to death.
Heat stress can be affected by factors such as:
How does the body react to heat stress?
Although there are factors that can affect some people differently, the human body has ways of coping with the high temperatures that it is exposed to. When your body starts to feel a rise in the temperature, it automatically begins to take actions to protect you, such as sweating and increased blood flow.
When the body absorbs more heat than it can take, the body becomes overwhelmed and experiences heat strain, which is the body’s overall response to heat stress. This strain can cause:
How serious is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and should be treated as a medical emergency. The core body temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism may fail, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Thinking clearly, perception, planning, and other mental processes become impaired, and the worker may be unable to recognize dangerous situations.
Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency medical treatment is not given. Symptoms include confusion, clumsiness, slurred speech, fainting/unconsciousness, hot dry skin, profuse sweating, seizures, and high body temperature.
How can heat stress be addressed?
Conducting a hazard assessment of a hot environment is the most effective way to determine the administrative and engineering controls for the hazard. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should also be provided for supplementary protection.
Employees must supplement their employers’ controls. Wearing loose, lightweight clothing, hats and sunscreen can go a long way in preventing heat stress. It is also critical for employees to drink water and electrolyte-replenishing beverages steadily throughout the day, and avoid alcohol and caffeine which can cause dehydration. Employees should familiarize themselves with the symptoms and treatment of heat stress so they know what to look out for, and how to prevent heat stress altogether.
How should a heat related illness emergency be handled?
If workers observe signs or symptoms of a heat-related illness, they should stop the activity immediately and report it to the necessary parties according to the facilities’ Emergency Action Plan.
For a more detailed description of how to prevent heat stress at your facility, ALMA members may access our Safety Bulletin on this topic by clicking here. Contact us if you have any questions or would like additional information.
Christian Murillo joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. as a Loss Control Manager in 2016. Prior to joining AEU, Christian worked in the safety and health field. Christian received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Nichols State University.