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3 Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke

Posted 6/15/2017 by UHBlog

Heat illness can be deadly. Talk to us about proven precautions to protect your employees from heat-related illnesses and more.

3 Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke

As the outside temperatures rise, that heat can take its toll on your employees. While extreme heat is dangerous for anyone, it can have dire effects on people who work outdoors or inside hot environments.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOHS), workers exposed to extreme heat risk occupational illnesses and injuries, which can cause mistakes and miscues. Extreme heat and excessive humidity can also lead to heat illnesses.

"Heat illness is progressive," says registered nurse Donna Ramadan, RN, MBA, who is Director of UH Employer Solutions. "A person who is overheating may have heat cramps, heat rash or heat exhaustion. The worst case is heat stroke, which can be fatal."

Consider these Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics:

  • In 2014, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 people died from heat stroke and related causes on the job.
  • Over the past 10 years, the average is 36 deaths and 2,810 heat-related illnesses each year.
  • Many of these deaths happened during the first few days of working in the heat, when employees weren't used to the temperature and had not built up a tolerance to hot conditions.
  • Some workers might be at greater risk than others are if they haven't built up a tolerance, including new workers, temporary workers or those returning to work after a week or more off.
  • Certain industries are more prone to heat-related illness, such as construction; trade, transportation and utilities; agriculture; building and grounds maintenance; landscaping services; and support activities for oil and gas operations.

Other factors besides not being used to the conditions can make workers more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, Ramadan says. Among those are:

  • Chronic medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease and/or diabetes, which can impact how you respond to heat
  • Prescription medications that affect your body’s normal response to heat – for example, diuretics and medications that you take for conditions like high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease can affect how your body regulates its temperature or inhibit sweating

To prevent your employees from becoming sick in the heat, Ramadan offers these three tips:

  1. Hydrate and take breaks. “Workers need to drink adequate fluids,” she says. “Drinking fluids can help bring down a person’s temperature.”
    Depending on the heat and humidity, drink water every 10 to 15 minutes, but avoid ice water – which can cause cramping – and caffeinated drinks.
    “Your employees also need to take frequent breaks to get out of the sun,” Ramadan says.
  2. Plan for the weather. Use cooling towels and misting systems that move air and water over people.
    “These are very helpful, especially for people who are working in a contained place,” she says.
    Additionally, Ramadan recommends that workers
    • Wear a hat
    • Dress in lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, as long as it’s not a safety hazard
    • Avoid dark colors that absorb and hold the heat
    • Carry along or have access to a large Gatorade-type bucket of water, which can be dumped onto a person who has symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  3. Train your workers. Employees need to know what the signs of heat illness are, what to look out for, and how to protect themselves and other workers.
    “Employers should empower employees to look out for one another,” she says. “This can be a fatal event.”
    Heat illness symptoms include:
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Irritability
    • Confusion
    • Thirst
    • Heavy sweating
    • A body temperature greater than 104° F
    “A person with heat exhaustion has a body temperature that starts to rise, and they’ll be sweating profusely,” Ramadan says. “It becomes dangerous when they’re no longer sweating, their skin becomes hot and dry, they’re breathing rapidly and their heart rate goes up. That’s a 9-1-1 emergency, and that person needs intervention right away, as organ or brain damage can occur.”

To learn more about how to prevent heat-related illnesses among your workers or other University Hospitals occupational health and safety services, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions.

Donna Ramadan, RN, MBA, is Director of UH Employer Solutions at University Hospitals.

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