OSEA Safety Blog

Heat Stress, How it Really Affects You

Thursday, June 22, 2017 Brenda Griffin

After a long day of training on a cold, blustery February evening and wearing several layers to keep warm, the last thing on my mind was heat stress. Yet looking at the poster for a fundraiser at the local restaurant provided a stark reminder of the dangers of heat.

The poster laid out all the facts - a young man was no longer able to work due to the permanent impacts to his brain after working in New York City last summer during a heat wave. His body temperature soared close to 105 degrees. He and his family were raising money to pay his bills.

What is a heat related illness?

Our bodies do their best to naturally keep cool. Heat escapes through our skin and through evaporation of sweat (aka perspiration). If the body doesn’t cool properly or does not cool enough, we may suffer a heat-related illness.

Anyone can be susceptible yet the very young and very old are at greater risk. Heat-related illnesses can become serious or even deadly if untreated.

What are the causes of a heat-related illness?

Heat Waves: More than 48 hours of high heat (90° F or higher) and high humidity (80 percent relative humidity or higher) are expected.

Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It occurs when people work or recreate in warm, humid environments. Body fluids are lost through profuse sweating and the loss of fluids causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should and the body is not cooled properly.

Warning signs include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.

Heat Stroke (Sun Stroke): Heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system stops working altogether. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death can occur if the body is not cooled quickly.

Warning signs include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high--sometimes as high as 105° F.

How Do We Respond to a Heat Emergencies?

  • Cool the Body
  • Give Fluids
  • Minimize Shock

For heat cramps or heat exhaustion: Take the person to a cooler place to rest. If the person is fully awake and alert, give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Make sure they don’t drink too quickly. Skip any alcohol or caffeine, as they can make things worse. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or other wet items such as towels or sheets. Call 9-1-1 if the person refuses water, vomits or loses consciousness.

For heat stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation! Help is needed ASAP. Call 9-1-1. Move the person to a cooler place, keep them lying down, and quickly cool the body. Wrap wet sheets or towels around the body and fan it to create evaporation. If ice, ice packs, or cold packs are available, wrap them in a cloth and place them on each of the victim's wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Watch for signs of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear

How can I Prevent Heat-Related Illness

  • Adjust work schedules to avoid doing heavy work during the warmest part of the day.
  • Plan to work in shade as much as possible during high heat periods.
  • Dress for the heat by wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella if no shade is available.
  • Drink water. Not only should you carry water or juice with you, you would be well served to drink plenty of fluids for several days prior to working in high heat conditions. Drink continuously even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they dehydrate the body.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often.
  • Adjust your work pace by slowing down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous work, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Stay indoors in an air-conditioned environment when possible.
  • Take plenty of breaks in a cool place. If you recognize that you, or someone else, is showing the signs of a heat-related illness, stop the activity, and find a cool place.
Work Safe. Work Smart. Work with OSEA. Start Now