Take action at signs of heat-related illness
For some jobs, it's not just the heat—it's also the humidity.
Both conditions can cause heat stress, which can range from annoying to life-threatening.
The risk of heat-related illness isn't confined to a particular job or season. It can occur in those who toil outdoors on warm days, such as farm laborers or construction workers. But it also can happen anytime to people working indoors in hot or muggy environments, such as kitchens, laundries, bakeries and factories.
If any of these sounds like your job, you may want to learn more about the signs of heat stress. Knowing what to do could save a co-worker—or yourself—someday.
To give you a heads-up, here's a guide to four common types of heat-related illness. The information comes from experts at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and others.
What it is. Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can't control its temperature, which can rise to critical levels within 10 to 15 minutes.
Symptoms. They include a high body temperature, confusion, a throbbing headache and slurred speech. A person may sweat profusely or stop sweating while the skin turns dry and hot.
What to do. Call for immediate medical help. In the meantime, move the person to a cool, shaded area. Put cold, wet cloths or ice over his or her body. Or, soak the person's clothing with cold water.
What it is. This serious condition is caused by a loss of water and salt from the body.
Symptoms. They include a rapid heartbeat, heavy sweating and extreme weakness. The person may become dizzy, vomit and possibly faint.
What to do. Take the person to a shaded area to rest and offer plenty of water. Apply cold water or cloths to the head, neck and face. Accompany the person to a clinic or emergency department for medical evaluation and treatment.
What it is. Sometimes related to heat exhaustion, cramps also are the result of a drop in the body's salt and water levels.
Symptoms. They include muscle cramps and pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs.
What to do. Urge the person to stop working, sit in a cool place and drink juice or a sports beverage. It's also OK to offer water and food. If cramps don't subside within an hour, take the person for medical care.
What it is. Sometimes called prickly heat, this annoying and common heat-related illness is caused by sweating.
Symptoms. They include clusters of red blisters or pimples that feel prickly or itchy.
What to do. The rash usually disappears after the person cools off. Applying a powder can help ease the discomfort, but avoid moistening the area with ointments or creams. They're likely to make it worse.
You can learn more about preventing and treating heat-related illnesses at www.osha.gov. Type "heat stress" in the search box.
- Judy Leach, Director Marketing & Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-251-6162