Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

When working during hot weather, we may suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Heat exhaustion occurs after being exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration.  There are two types of heat exhaustion: 1) Water depletion.  Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.  2) Salt depletion.  Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Symptoms: The most common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include: confusion, dark-colored urine, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, pale skin, profuse sweating and rapid heartbeat.

First Aid: When someone shows symptoms of heat exhaustion, immediately remove that person to a place where the air is circulating freely, preferably in an air-conditioned room.  If you can’t get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place.  Make the person lie down and keep her or him warm.  If the victim is conscious, have them drink plenty of fluid (avoid caffeine and alcohol), remove any tight or unnecessary clothing, take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath, apply other cooling measures such as fans or ice towels.  If such measures fail to provide relief within 15 minutes, seek emergency medical help, because untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.

Prevention: If you must go outdoors, you can prevent heat stroke by taking these steps: 1) Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat.  2) Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more.  3) Drink extra fluids in order to prevent dehydration.  Drink plenty of water, fruit juice, or vegetable juice per day.  It may be advisable to substitute an electrolyte-rich sports drink for water during periods of extreme heat and humidity.  Avoid fluids containing caffeine or alcohol.  4) Take additional precautions when exercising or working outdoors.  General recommendation is to drink 17-20 ounces of fluid two to three hours before activity, and consider adding another 8 ounces of water or sports drink right before activity.  During activity, you should consume another 7-10 ounces of water every 20 minutes, even if you don’t feel thirsty.  Also, drink another 8 ounces within a half hour after activity.

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat related injury and is considered a medical emergency.  If you suspect that someone has heat stroke, call 911 immediately and provide first aid until paramedics arrive.

Symptoms: Heat stroke results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures usually in combination with dehydration, which leads to failure of the body’s temperature control system.  The medical definition of heat strike is a core body temperature greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures.  Other common symptoms include throbbing headache, nausea, seizures, confusion, disorientation, a lack of sweating, red-hot and dry skin, rapid-shallow breathing and sometimes loss of consciousness or coma.

First Aid: Immediately call 911 or transport the person to a hospital.  While waiting for emergency assistance, move the person to an air-conditioned environment or at least a cool, shady area and remove any unnecessary clothing.  Fan air over the person while wetting her or his skin with water from a sponge or garden hose.  Apply ice packs to the person’s armpits, groin, neck and back.  Immerse the person in a shower or tub of cool water, or an ice bath.  If emergency response is delayed, call the hospital emergency room for additional instructions.

Prevention: If you must work outdoors, you can prevent heat stroke by taking these steps: 1) Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat.  2) Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more.  3) Drink extra fluids in order to prevent dehydration.  It is recommended to drink at least eight glasses of water, fruit juice, or vegetable juice per day.  It may be advisable to substitute an electrolyte-rich sports drink for water during periods of extreme heat and humidity.  Avoid fluids containing caffeine or alcohol.  4) Take additional precautions when exercising or working outdoors.  General recommendation is to drink 24 ounces of fluid two hours before activity, and consider adding another 8 ounces of water or sports drink right before activity.  During activity, you should consume another 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, even if you don’t feel thirsty.  5) Reschedule or cancel outdoor activity or shift your time outdoors to the coolest times of the day.

Know the difference and become familiar with the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  The treatment and prevention for each of these ailments is a bit different and knowing the difference could mean life or death.

STS Solutions, Inc. believes that your workplace can be incident free.

Solutions to Enable Safe Working Environments.  Find us at www.sts.solutions