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Heat can kill you or those you work with. Learn the signs of heat illness and how to prevent the various forms of it. You will see the signs of heat stress and other conditions become more apparent when you’ve received proper training for spotting and treating them.

What Are the Dangers of Working in the Heat, and When Should You Worry?

Working in the heat, especially if you aren’t acclimated, can cause severe illness or death. Unfortunately, workers may experience heat stress at temperatures as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if they are exerting themselves. Everyone has different metabolisms and heat tolerances, especially for those not used to working in the heat.

Exertion, motor heat, heavy protective clothing and direct sunlight can all increase the chances of developing heat illnesses for all workers. Strenuous work such as shoveling increases the chances of heat stress compared to sitting. Direct sunlight can also exacerbate the influence of heat on the body.

How Does Heat Illness Occur?

Heat stress happens when the body works extra hard to cool itself, but if this condition goes without treatment, the stress worsens, and heat exhaustion or stroke develop.

The skin also experiences stress from contact with the sun and heat. Sunburn and heat rash occur when the surface reddens or develops clusters of blisters. These skin conditions should serve as warnings that you need to get out of the elements to cool off and protect yourself.

What Is Heat-Related Illness?

What Is Heat-Related Illness?

Heat-related illnesses are stresses that occur to the body from exposure to heat. You can prevent them, even when temperatures rise over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Centers for Disease Control have identified five types of heat illnesses — heat cramps, exhaustion, stroke, sunburn and rash.

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1. Heat Cramps

Heat cramps occur when muscles spasm, causing pain. Typically, you will experience heavy sweating at the time, which causes a loss of electrolytes. The imbalance of minerals in your body leads to cramping. Drink sports drinks, which have electrolytes in them, to rehydrate your body and restore its mineral balance. Doing so will help ease your cramps.

When you have heat cramps, cool off until they subside. If the condition persists for more than an hour, you have a heart condition or eat a low-sodium diet, get medical help immediately.

2. Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion symptoms are what many people consider classic heat illness signs — sweating, fatigue, nausea and cramps. These symptoms, though, appear in many types of heat illness, including heatstroke and milder stress. Exhaustion occurs when you sweat heavily, have cold and damp skin and a rapid pulse.

When heat exhaustion signs appear, you must get out of the sun immediately. If you do not, you could develop heatstroke. Cool off in an air-conditioned room, loosen your clothes and sip on plenty of water until you feel better.

3. Heatstroke

When your body cannot keep itself cool, it starts to shut down. The body temperature rises to dangerous levels. You stop sweating, and you may pass out. These signs indicate a medical emergency that requires a 911 call. You can die from heatstroke without treatment.

4. Sunburn

When the skin has excessive exposure to UV rays in sunlight, it can turn red and painful in exposed areas. Do not go back out into the sun with unprotected skin until the burn heals.

To prevent sunburn, always wear sunscreen when working outside. Even if you tan instead of burn, wearing sunscreen can reduce your chances of developing skin cancer later.

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5. Heat Rash

Heat rash happens in areas not exposed to the sun but subjected to sweat and heat stress, such as the folds of the arms or groin. The skin breaks out into small clusters of blisters that may feel painful. Go to a cool place and keep the skin dry until the rash subsides.

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion does not have to happen. You can prevent this condition by keeping hydrated with water or sports drinks, taking plenty of breaks in the shade, assessing your physical health and that of others and taking time to acclimate to temperature extremes.

How to Identify Signs of Heat Illness

When it comes to heat illnesses, many symptoms overlap. It can be difficult to differentiate between heat exhaustion and heat cramps. OSHA recommends cooling down the person with the symptoms and calling 911 immediately.

The most important types of heat illnesses to know are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to life-threatening heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include the following:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Headache
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle weakness or cramps

Heatstroke happens when the body’s cooling systems fail and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels. Signs of heatstroke can set in quickly and require immediate emergency care. These signs include the following:

  • Passing out
  • High body temperature, usually above 103 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

As you can see, some symptoms, such as headache, dizziness and passing out can happen in both heatstroke and heat exhaustion. If you are ever in doubt about the type of heat illness the person suffers from, call 911. Unless you are a doctor, do not try to make a diagnosis.

How to Treat Heat Illness

When treating heat illness, you must get the person cooled off as soon as possible. Follow these guidelines from OSHA to cool off the person until they improve or help arrives:

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  • Move the person to a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Submerge them into an ice bath to rapidly cool them off
  • Remove excess clothing, especially heavy personal protective equipment
  • Fan the injured person
  • Stay with the person the entire treatment time

Some symptoms, regardless of other signs, indicate an emergency. If you see someone displaying any of the following signs, call 911:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slurred speech

Employer Responsibility

If you are an employer, OSHA requires you to create a safe working environment for your employees. When working in naturally dangerous conditions, such as high heat, you must provide your ways for employees to protect themselves from developing heat illnesses.

First, you need to understand the principles of heat stress prevention. Next, take action on those ideas with provisions for your workers. Always provide the following for your workers when the temperatures rise:

  • Shade or a cool place to rest
  • Plenty of fresh, cool water
  • Time to acclimate to the heat
  • Training on how to prevent heatstroke and recognize symptoms
  • Monitoring for signs of heat stress

Get Certification Training for Heat Illness With Hazmat School

Certification

Whether you need to learn how to prevent heat illness in athletes or employees, a training session to walk you through prevention, recognition and treatment of this condition will help you achieve your goal. Our courses beat any other price for training. Check out our heat illness course, as well as our other certification training options, to help you become a more responsible employer for your workers.

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