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Don't become a victim of heat illness!
By W. Jon Wallace, CSP, MBA
With the summer months soon upon us we need to protect our workers from the potentially devastating effects of heat illness. As a triathlete who has completed both the Escape from Alcatraz and Beach2Battleship 70.3 mile triathlons and having lived for five years in the most humid city in the United States (Beaumont, Texas), I am very cognizant of how critical it is to avoid a heat-related illness.
In this article, we will talk about the various types of heat illnesses; signs and symptoms; and treatment. Before we start it is important to mention the human body is the most complex machine in existence. Your body tries to maintain a core body temperature of approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If you become much hotter than this your body goes into self-protection mode to protect your vital organs — such as your heart and your brain by shutting down "non-critical" life functions. What happens during a heat illness, therefore, is your body's internal defense mechanism to protect itself.
Heat illness emergencies
One of the most simple, yet critical precautions against heat illness is hydration! But it's important to have the proper type of hydration. Water, as well as a sports drink containing electrolytes, such as Gatorade®, are very effective for sustaining proper hydration. However, it is important to mention that beverages such as coffee, tea as well as alcohol are considered diuretics and actually remove water from your body. Therefore, consumption of these liquids (diuretics) should be limited when working in hot environments. Listed below are the various heat illnesses, symptoms, and treatment.
Preventing heat illness
As mentioned previously, proper hydration with the right fluids is vital to reducing the possibility of a heat illness. In addition, take breaks whenever possible; consider personal protective equipment (PPE) such as cooling vests; as well as worksite engineering controls, such as air conditioning; air mist; and fans (provided ambient temperature does not exceed core body temperature).
Monitoring for heat illness
Here are some things to watch for to determine if one of your workers may be suffering from heat illness:
Any heat illness should be taken seriously and treated to prevent the condition from worsening. The best method to protect your workers is by utilizing proper safe work practices, including proper hydration of water as well as fluids containing electrolytes; frequent work breaks; proper PPE (including cooling vests); and engineering controls. By utilizing these safe work practices, your workers can work productively in the summer instead of becoming a victim of the heat.
If you have any questions concerning this article or other safety issues, please contact W. Jon Wallace, "The Safety Guru", at 919.933.5548 or by