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As the heat and humidity of summertime in Missouri are now upon us, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the dangers involved when we are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments.

High temperatures kill hundreds of people every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat caused 7,415 heat-related deaths in the United States from 1999 to 2010. While no one is exempt from experiencing heat-related death and illness, they are preventable. 

High temperatures and humidity stress the body’s ability to cool itself, so anyone who is exposed to extreme heat or works in a hot environment may be at risk of heat stress; however, those particularly susceptible to these illnesses include older adults, young children, and persons with chronic medical conditions. Additionally, people who work outdoors such as construction workers and farmers, to people who work in hot environments such as miners and factory workers, are all at an increased risk of heat stress and even injury due to fogged-up safety glasses, sweaty palms, dizziness, etc.

There are three major forms of heat illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, with heat stroke being a life threatening condition. I will discuss these, as well as signs and symptoms of each. Finally, I will provide some tips for heat-related illness prevention and what to do if someone you know is experiencing heat-related illness.

Heat Cramps
Heat Cramps are painful spasms of the muscles, caused when workers drink large quantities of water but fail to replace their body’s salt loss. Tired muscles (those used for performing the work) are usually the ones most susceptible to cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours and may be relieved by taking liquids by mouth or IV saline solutions for quicker relief, if medically required. 

Heat Rash
Heat Rash (prickly heat) may occur in hot and humid environments where sweat isn’t easily removed from the surface of the skin by evaporation. When extensive or complicated by infection, heat rash can be so uncomfortable that it inhibits sleep and impedes a worker’s performance. It can be prevented by resting in a cool place and allowing the skin to dry. 

Fainting (heat syncope) may be a problem for the worker not acclimatized to a hot environment who simply stands still in the heat. Victims usually recover quickly after a brief period of lying down. Moving around, rather than standing still, will usually reduce the possibility of fainting.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
• Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
• Weakness and moist skin.
• Mood changes such as irritability or confusion.
• Upset stomach or vomiting.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke
• Dry, hot skin with no sweating.
• Mental confusion or losing consciousness.
• Seizures or convulsions.

What to Do for Heat-Related Illness
• Follow on-site medical procedures (see orientation or site documents).
• Move the worker to a cool, shaded area.
• Loosen or remove heavy clothing.
• Provide cool drinking water.
• Fan and mist the person with water.

Preventing Heat Stress

• Know signs/symptoms of heat-related illnesses; monitor yourself and coworkers.
• Block out direct sun or other heat sources.
• Use cooling fans/air-conditioning; rest regularly.
• Drink lots of water; about 1 cup every 15 minutes.
• Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or heavy meals.

Prevention of heat stress is important and is often overlooked. Training should be provided to anyone working in a hot environment so they understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented.

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