Summer is here and so is the sun..
We are all at risk for heat illness, whether we are working or simply living our day to day lives. There were 8,081 heat-related deaths reported in the United States between 1999 and 2010. In 5,783 of those deaths, the cause was exposure to excessive heat. Overall, July and August had the highest number of reported deaths.
What is heat illness?
Heat-related illness is a condition that results from exposure to extreme heat where the body is unable to properly cool, leading to a rapid rise in body temperature. Our bodies use the evaporation of sweat to remove heat. When the humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly often preventing the body from releasing heat quickly.
Heat related illness includes:
- Heat stress
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat rash
- Heat cramps
- Heat stroke
Symptoms and first aid recommendations can vary based on the illness. NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupations Safety and Health) provides valuable recommendations for employers and the public to review.
Who is affected by heat illness?
Whether we are working in the attic, enjoying a pleasant hike or working outdoors, anyone is susceptible. Some, though, may be at greater risk such as infants and children up to 4 years old as well as people 65 years of age and older. Those with existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease also face higher risk. Even young and healthy individuals, though, can be affected if they participate in strenuous physical activities in the heat. Drinking alcohol and certain medications can also lead to a greater risk.
What can we do?
- During a heat wave, be sure to frequently check on those at risk such as the elderly, disabled or homebound.
- Never leave children alone in cars. Additionally, dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces from the sun.
- Take precautions by limiting sun exposure during midday hours and drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids, primarily water. Take breaks regularly in order to cool down.
- Lastly, we cannot forget our pets so provide plenty of fresh water and leave the water in a shady area.
What can we do for workers?
Workers at risk of heat stress include workers in hot environments such as firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, among others. Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers due to sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, or dizziness. Burns can also result from an accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam.
Employers should provide training to workers so they understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented.
Although heat illness is a risk to us all, we can take precautions to protect ourselves. We provide safety meeting sheets to share with workers and crews, you can download them here. For additional information, contact us.