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Tips to Help Your Workers Avoid Heat Related IncidentsIn some states, summer weather can be a little uncomfortable. In Florida, it can be downright dangerous. Scorching temperatures and suffocating humidity make our summers exceptionally brutal. If you have employees who work outside, share this article with them. By learning the basics and taking a few simple precautions, they can steer clear of heat-related illnesses this summer….

Those most affected are workers exposed to hot and humid conditions, especially those performing heavy work tasks or using bulky protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, are in poor physical condition, are older, or if they have heart disease, high blood pressure, or are taking certain medications.

So, what are heat illnesses? There are three major forms of heat illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, with heat stroke being a life threatening condition. Heat cramps are muscle spasms which usually affect the arms, legs, or stomach. Frequently they don’t occur until sometime later after work, at night, or when relaxing.

Heat cramps are caused by heavy sweating, especially when water is replaced by drinking, but salt or potassium are not adequately replaced. Although heat cramps can be quite painful, they usually don’t result in permanent damage. To prevent them, drink electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade during the day and try eating more fruits like bananas to replace lost potassium.

Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps. It occurs when the body’s internal cooling system is overworked, but hasn’t completely shut down. In heat exhaustion, the surface blood vessels and capillaries which originally enlarged to cool the blood collapse from loss of body fluids and necessary minerals. This happens when you don’t drink enough fluids to replace what you’re sweating away.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include: headache, heavy sweating, intense thirst, dizziness, fatigue, loss of coordination, nausea, impaired judgment, loss of appetite, hyperventilation, tingling in hands or feet, anxiety, cool moist skin, weak and rapid pulse (120-200), and low to normal blood pressure.

Somebody suffering these symptoms should be moved to a cool location such as a shaded area or air-conditioned building. Have them lie down with their feet slightly elevated. Loosen their clothing, apply cool, wet towels or fan them. Have them drink water or electrolyte drinks. Try to cool them down, and have them checked by medical personnel. Victims of heat exhaustion should avoid strenuous activity for at least a day, and they should continue to drink water to replace lost body fluids.

Heat stroke is a life threatening illness with a high death rate. It occurs when the body has depleted its supply of water and salt, and the victim’s body temperature rises to deadly levels. A heat stroke victim may first suffer heat cramps and/or heat exhaustion before progressing into the heat stroke stage, but this is not always the case. It should be noted that, on the job, heat stroke is sometimes mistaken for heart attack. It is therefore very important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke – and to check for them anytime an employee collapses while working in a hot environment.

The early symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature (103 degrees F); a distinct absence of sweating (usually); hot red or flushed dry skin; rapid pulse; difficulty breathing; constricted pupils; any/all the signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion such as dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, or confusion, but more severe; bizarre behavior; and high blood pressure. Advance symptoms may be seizure or convulsions, collapse, loss of consciousness, and a body temperature of over 108° F. It is vital to lower a heat stroke victim’s body temperature. Seconds count. Pour water on them, fan them, or apply cold packs under arm pits. Continue to pour water on them. Call 911 and get an ambulance on the way as soon as possible.

What can be done to prevent a heat illness?

  • Work conditioning for hot environments (also known as acclimatization) – Start slowly and build up to more strenuous physical work over the course of a few days.
  • Take frequent rest breaks to recover.
  • Drink lots of fluids before beginning work and continue throughout the day.
  • Don’t wait until thirst–by then a person may already be a quart low of fluids and well on their way to being dehydrated. Electrolyte replacement beverages are good for replacing both water and minerals lost through perspiration.
  • Never drink alcohol and avoid caffeinated beverages, as they act as a diuretic.
  • Take frequent breaks to replenish fluids and cool down.
  • Wear light weight and light colored clothing when working out in the sun.
  • Take advantage of fans, water misters and air-conditioning.
  • Get plenty of sleep at night.

Planning, training, conditioning and a little caution are important to avoid heat illnesses!

John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is the Director of Risk Management and Claims at Gulfshore Insurance. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at jkeller@gulfshoreinsurance.com

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