Too Hot to Handle: How to Recognize, Treat, and Prevent Heat Exhaustion
National Safety Month is observed annually in June. Sponsored by the National Safety Council, this campaign focuses on preventing injury, illness, and death in homes, communities, and workplaces. The council eliminates preventable deaths through research, education, and advocacy. In the construction industry, technicians, skilled trades and contractors face hazards on a regular basis. The importance of worksite safety and awareness can’t be overstated, especially during summer months. As temperatures rise, workers become more and more at risk for exertional heat stroke. It can affect anyone working out in the heat, but endurance athletes, football players, and field laborers face the highest risk. During any kind of exercise, the body produces a great amount of heat. Sweat can cool the body, but during a heat stroke, the nervous system is not able to cool. This causes body temperatures to rise to dangerous temperatures. After a certain point, organ damage and failure can occur. Fortunately, heat stroke can be recognized, treated, and prevented with a few steps. Read more to find out you can keep yourself and coworkers safe.
Common Signs of Heat Stroke
- Profuse Sweating. The first most common and visible sign of heat stroke is profuse sweating. To cool down as fast as possible, the body will produce a great amount of sweat. Even though this is the body’s natural cooling mechanism, it may not be enough to reverse the onset of heat stroke. A person may not immediately show other signs of heat stroke, but they’re body temperature could be steadily rising to dangerous levels.
- High Body Temperature. The next sign of heat stroke is high body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F means danger and emergency services should be called immediately. Also, if you think someone might be suffering from heat stroke, even though an initial oral thermometer reading was low, continue to monitor them for other symptoms. Sometimes, initial thermometer readings can be inaccurate.
- Loss of Coordination. Another sign of exertional heat stroke is confusion or loss of coordination, similar to how a person may react after receiving a concussion. Heat stroke fries the central nervous system, causing motor skills to short circuit. Losing the ability to walk and even uncharacteristic aggression are huge red flags.
- Throbbing Headache. After quickly losing a large amount of sweat, dehydration sets in. Dehydration can cause the brain to temporarily shrink from fluid loss and pull away from the skull. This may cause a throbbing, painful headache that can be as intense as a migraine.
- Dizziness, Fainting, Nausea. If left unchecked, the heat will start to affect various organs, all of which can exacerbate any of the symptoms previously mentioned. Organ damage can also lead to can lead to dizziness, fainting, nausea, or vomiting.
Now that you know the most common signs of heat stroke, read on and consider what steps you can take next.
Treatment and Prevention
If you notice symptoms of heat stroke, immediately call dial 911—the situation can be life-threatening. While you wait for help to arrive, you can help by aggressively cooling the person suffering. First, move the person to a cooler place. Get them out of the sun and into the shade or indoors where there may be a fan or air conditioning. Use ice or cool water to help lower their body temperature. Focus on cooling the hands, feet, chest, and forehead. Help the patient drink water or a sports drink. If they are extremely light-headed, confused, or irritable, you might need to wait until they cool down before they can tolerate fluids. To prevent heat stroke, coordinate with your supervisor and co-workers to keep everyone safe. Wear appropriate clothing to the worksite. Clothing should be light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable. Drink plenty of fluids. The best strategy is to hydrate the night before and then to drink small amounts of water every 15 minutes before becoming thirsty. Avoid drinking large amounts of caffeine, energy or sugary drinks. Take breaks. Use shade and air conditioning when possible. If you notice any signs of heat stroke in yourself or others, ask for help immediately before the situation escalates.
At Brandt, we genuinely care about our workers and their families. This month, we will be participating in a companywide stand down to promote public awareness of industry safety concerns. The thirty minutes spent during the stand down is to bring a higher level of alertness and awareness to all workers about the importance of safety, especially in the hot, summer months ahead. It is also important to take this time to celebrate employee contributions to the project’s success and let them know that we couldn’t do it without them. Always remember: the work can’t go on without you.