Heat stress can be deadly. Earlier this week the local news (Dallas/Ft Worth area) reported there have been 284 reported cases of heat stress this spring and summer. Wow! What’s happening? It hasn’t been as hot this year as it was last year (at least not so far) and we are experiencing more heat related illnesses.
So? What is heat stress? Oklahoma State’s School of Environmental, Health and Safety uses this definition and suggestions for treatment.
High temperatures and humidity stress the body’s ability to cool itself, and heat illness becomes a special concern during hot weather. There are three major forms of heat illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, with heat stroke being a life threatening condition.
Heat cramps are muscle spasms which usually affect the arms, legs, or stomach. Frequently they don’t occur until sometime later after work, at night, or when relaxing. Heat cramps are caused by heavy sweating, especially when water is replaced by drinking, but not salt or potassium. Although heat cramps can be quite painful, they usually don’t result in permanent damage. To prevent them, drink electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade during the day and try eating more fruits like bananas.
Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps. It occurs when the body’s internal air-conditioning system is overworked, but hasn’t completely shut down. In heat exhaustion, the surface blood vessels and capillaries which originally enlarged to cool the blood collapse from loss of body fluids and necessary minerals. This happens when you don’t drink enough fluids to replace what you’re sweating away.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion include: headache, heavy sweating, intense thirst, dizziness, fatigue, loss of coordination, nausea, impaired judgment, loss of appetite, hyperventilation, tingling in hands or feet, anxiety, cool moist skin, weak and rapid pulse (120-200), and low to normal blood pressure.
Somebody suffering these symptoms should be moved to a cool location such as a shaded area or air-conditioned building. Have them lie down with their feet slightly elevated. Loosen their clothing, apply cool, wet cloths or fan them. Have them drink water or electrolyte drinks. Try to cool them down, and have them checked by medical personnel. Victims of heat exhaustion should avoid strenuous activity for at least a day, and they should continue to drink water to replace lost body fluids.
Heat stroke is a life threatening illness with a high death rate. It occurs when the body has depleted its supply of water and salt, and the victim’s body temperature rises to deadly levels. A heat stroke victim may first suffer heat cramps and/or the heat exhaustion before progressing into the heat stroke stage, but this is not always the case. It should be noted that, on the job, heat stroke is sometimes mistaken for heart attack. It is therefore very important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke – and to check for them anytime an employee collapses while working in a hot environment.
The early symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature (103 degrees F); a distinct absence of sweating (usually); hot red or flushed dry skin; rapid pulse; difficulty breathing; constricted pupils; any/all the signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion such as dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, or confusion, but more severe; bizarre behavior; and high blood pressure. Advance symptoms may be seizure or convulsions, collapse, loss of consciousness, and a body temperature of over 108° F.
It is vital to lower a heat stroke victim’s body temperature. Seconds count. Pour water on them, fan them, or apply cold packs . Call 911 and get an ambulance on the way as soon as possible.
Conditions that induce heat stress are high temperature, high humidity, lack of ventilation and radiant heating and can be monitored using WBGT Heat Stress monitors such as the Sper 800037 WBGT meter with data logging.
This meter, and similar meters are available from SMG/interlink. For immediate information call 1-800-804-6196.