Heat-Related Illness: How to Minimize Risk

May 7, 2019 Ian Cohen

Spring has sprung across parts of the Northern Hemisphere, which means summer isn't too far behind. As temperatures begin to soar across North America, Europe, and Northern Asia, it’s time to dust off your heat exhaustion and heat stroke training materials to ensure that your employees who work outdoors are prepared and can recognize the warning signs of these two potentially lethal conditions.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious heat-related illnesses. In the Northern Hemisphere, heat-related deaths typically occur between May and September. The CDC estimates that heat-related illnesses result in over 600 deaths per year just in the US.

Heat-Related Illness: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms can be subtle, so it’s important that employees pay attention to their own bodies as well as keep an eye on their co-workers and be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. As the body becomes unable to cool itself down, your body temperature will rise, which can damage the brain or other vital organs if it gets too high. In severe cases of heat stroke, this can lead to multi-organ system failure and death.

Here are key warning signs that someone may be suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke:

Heat Exhaustion Warning Signs

  • Muscle cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which is life-threatening.

Heat Stroke Warning Signs

  • Body temperature greater than 103°F (39.4°C)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

You Might Also Like: 8 Frequently Asked Questions about Managing Heat Stress

Take Action

Since there are overlaps in the symptoms between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, it is imperative that employees understand that they should presume the worst-case scenario and seek help immediately, such as calling 911 (US and Canada) or 112 (Europe and Northern Asia).

Follow these steps while waiting for paramedics to arrive:

  • Move the person out of the sun and into an air-conditioned building or car or into the shade
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing
  • Place the person on his or her side to expose as much skin surface to the air as possible
  • Use ice packs, ice water to help lower their body temperature – place ice packs in each armpit, on the back of the person's neck, below the palm of the hands, and behind the knees
  • Watch for seizures, unconsciousness that lasts longer than a few seconds, and moderate to severe difficulty breathing – these can be signs that heatstroke is rapidly progressing
  • Give the person fluids if they are alert and able to swallow. It’s recommended that you give 1-2 L (32-64 fl oz) over a 1 to 2-hour period of time to help with hydration. Remember, you may have to help the person drink so they do not accidentally choke.
  • Do not give aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce the person’s body temperature – they do not have a fever. Giving these medications can exacerbate an already dangerous situation.

Be Proactive

Whether it’s on the job or at home, heat-related illness is preventable if you and those around you are cognizant of the risks. Take these proactive measures to minimize the risks of an employee developing heat exhaustion or heat stroke:

  • Conduct job hazard/job safety assessments to determine the risk of employees developing heat-related illnesses. Don’t forget to assess jobs that are conducted indoors, since some buildings may not have air conditioning or adequate ventilation and can be warmer than the outside air temperature
  • Conduct risk assessments to determine if work procedures need to be modified during days when temperatures are forecast to be above 90°F (32°C).
  • Monitor the weather forecast for excessive heat watches and warnings as well as heat advisories and send out alerts to employees reminding them to take precautions while working outdoors or in buildings without air conditioning
  • Conduct pre-job briefings to alert employees to weather conditions and the risks that this can present to them and their co-workers
  • Train employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, as well as precautions they can take, including staying hydrated and wearing light-weight, light-colored clothing
  • Set up water stations throughout your site to help employees stay hydrated

Learn More About Managing Heat-Related Illness

Are you an employer who wants to protect your workers from heat-related illnesses? If so, you can monitor your employees’ exposure to heat by taking advantage of health and safety technology solutions. Cority’s Safety Management solutions have been designed to help safety professionals identify and minimize on the job hazards. Our Risk Management and Job Hazard Analysis solutions are designed to drive down risks while keeping employees safe during all seasons. Learn about our solutions here 

For more information and best practices for preventing heat-related illnesses, watch our webinar Managing Heat Stress in Industry:

About the Author

Ian Cohen

Ian Cohen, MS is the Product Marketing Manager responsible for Cority's Environmental and Safety initiatives. Before taking this role, Ian was Cority's Environmental Product Manager, where he was responsible for developing Cority's Environmental Compliance and Data Management Suite. Prior to working with Cority, Ian was an environmental specialist at Florida Power & Light Company, a NextEra Energy, Inc., company, where he led the development, implementation, and management of various environmental management systems and programs. Ian is well versed in the development of enterprise environmental management information systems and is a subject matter expert in corporate sustainability, including program development, annual reporting and stakeholder communications. Ian earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science in Environmental Science, both from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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