In the Heat of the Moment
Heat-related illness not only happens at work but also at home and anyone can become a victim. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta states in 2016 there were 658 deaths attributed to heat related illnesses and estimates that number to increase in years to come. At this point, we are well into summer, and with the rise of temperature and humidity, the chances of heat illness are much higher. When our proactive measures dealing with the increased heat don’t work, we can end up with heat-related emergencies.
Causes of heat emergencies:
Heat is absorbed from the environment faster than the body can get rid of it. The body cools typically by perspiring and varying the blood flow to the skin. When the body's primary cooling system is unable to evaporate, the sweat produced by the body becomes overheated. This typically happens when the temperature is equal to or above body temperature, and humidity is high enough to prevent the cooling effect from the evaporation of sweat.
Workers at risk:
- People with lighter skin
- People not acclimatized (usually takes one to two weeks)
- Acclimatized people that are ill or are away from work for one week
- People exposed to direct sunlight during hottest part of the day (10 AM to 2 PM)
- People exposed to heat producing operations (machinery, boilers, tanks, etc.)
- Workers over 40 as they have a reduced ability to sweat
The three main types of heat emergencies, in progression, are Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
Symptoms: Painful spasms in the larger body muscles (ex. legs, stomach and/or back) this results from a loss of fluids and salt from heavy sweating.
First Aid Treatment: Find a cool place to rest while drinking more water and massage cramped muscles.
Symptoms: Can include: Moist, clammy skin (may look pale), heavy sweating, rapid breathing, weak pulse, a feeling of weakness or being tired, confused or clumsy, blurred vision and/or fainting.
First Aid Treatment: First move the victim to cool place, give cool water only if conscious and coherent, have victim sit or lay down and apply wet towels and cool packs to pressure points. Seek medical attention if improvement is not noted in 30 minutes as heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
Symptoms: At this point the body has used up excess water and salt, sweating stops and body temperature elevates. The skin will be dry and hot to the touch. The person will appear weak, confused possibly upset and irrational. They will likely have a headache and be dizzy, may have loss of consciousness and have convulsions.
First aid treatment: Immediately call an ambulance as heat stroke can quickly lead to death. Move the victim to a cool place and remove heavy and excess clothing. Cool the person’s entire body by sponging or spraying cold water, and fan the person to help lower the person's body temperature. Be prepared to care for seizures if necessary. Do not use aspirin or acetaminophen. Most people with heatstroke have an altered level of consciousness and cannot safely be given fluids to drink. If the person is awake and alert enough to swallow, give the person fluids [32 fl oz (1 L) to 64 fl oz (2 L) over 1 to 2 hours] for hydration. Make sure the person is sitting up enough so that he or she does not choke. Lastly, do not send them home or leave them alone no matter how much they protest, unless a physician has approved it.