Beyond summer vacations, one of the best parts of summer is the consistently sunny and warm weather, especially if you live in a place like the Pacific Northwest. Although this summer weather may be welcomed by most, it means those who work outdoors, as many in the home improvement trades do, are at a higher risk of heat-related illness.
In fact, according to Safety and Health Magazine, heat-related illnesses accounted for 783 worker deaths and nearly 70,000 serious injuries in the United States from 1992 to 2016.
If you manage a crew that works outdoors, or work outdoors yourself, keep reading to learn how to prevent heat stroke and other heat-related conditions. It could save a life.
Know the Difference
The first step to avoiding heat stroke is to know the difference between the many levels of heat-related illnesses, ranging from sunburns and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. While sunburns and heat cramps are self-explanatory, it can be easy to blur the lines between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are severe conditions caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures, especially when combined with dehydration and strenuous physical activity. While related, they represent two distinct stages of heat-related illnesses and differ significantly in their severity, symptoms, and immediate health implications.
Heat exhaustion is the less severe of the two conditions and is typically the precursor to heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include:
- Heavy sweating
- Rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
These symptoms are a signal from your body that it’s becoming overheated. If you ignore this signal and continue to engage in physical activity or remain in the heat without taking appropriate measures to cool down and hydrate, you risk progressing to heat stroke.
On the other hand, heat stroke is a far more severe condition and a medical emergency. It occurs when your body’s temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) or higher. At this point, the body’s cooling mechanisms fail, leading to a rapid rise in core body temperature. Unlike heat exhaustion, where you experience excessive sweating, your skin may feel hot and dry to the touch in heat stroke as sweating often stops.
Symptoms of heat stroke may include:
- Altered mental state
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness or coma
These neurological symptoms differentiate heat stroke from heat exhaustion and highlight its severity. Moreover, without immediate treatment, heat stroke can damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles and, in severe cases, can be fatal.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke
Now that you have a general understanding of the differences between heat stroke and heat exhaustion, keep reading to learn 13 ways you can help your crews beat the heat and how to prevent heat stroke.
- Provide ample hydration (ideally cold water, sports drinks, or coconut water)
- Allow time for new crew members or those coming back from time off to acclimate to the temperature
- Be flexible with work hours if possible (Early start – early off)
- Educate your crew on proper hot weather attire (Loose, breathable, and moisture-wicking)
- Encourage frequent breaks
- Provide a shaded or cool area for breaks
- Take the heat index into account
- If working inside without air conditioning, provide fans
- Suggest the use of sunscreen
- Limit caffeine intake to prevent dehydration
- Pace the work
- Provide damp towels for necks and pulse points
- Don’t ignore the warning signs
- Don’t ignore the warning signs
You may notice we repeated tip #13. That wasn’t an error. Instead, we want to highlight and reiterate its importance. As a team leader or a worker in the field, the responsibility lies with you to ensure these precautions are taken seriously. Don’t ignore the warning signs – vigilance and swift action are crucial to surviving and thriving in the summer heat. By educating yourself and your crew about heat-related illnesses and implementing the outlined safety measures, you’re not just promoting a safer work culture – you’re potentially saving lives.