Working outside, you know that the weather can have an impact on your day. Hot weather, especially when combined with strenuous physical labor, can cause your body temperature to rise to unsafe levels. Normally, your body cools itself through sweating, but in hot and humid weather, sweating is not enough and the result can be a dangerous heat illness.
Follow the suggestions below to stay cool when working in hot weather:
- Wear loose, light-colored clothing when possible, along with a hard hat.
- Take short breaks to rest in the shade. If wearing outer protective gear, remove during your break.
- Gradually build up to heavier work.
- Avoid overexerting yourself during peak temperature periods (midday).
- Drink liquids frequently, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Aim for drinking at least eight ounces every 20 to 30 minutes. Choose water, fruit juice or sports drinks and stay away from liquids containing caffeine, which can dehydrate you.
Recognizing the Symptoms
There are three forms of heat illness, each with the following distinct symptoms:
- Heat cramps—Symptoms include severe muscle spasms in the back, stomach, arms and legs, which are attributed to the loss of body salt and water during periods of heavy perspiration.
- Heat exhaustion—Symptoms include heavy sweating, cool or pale skin, nausea, headache, weakness, vomiting and fast pulse.
- Heat stroke—Symptoms include high body temperature, red and often dry skin, rapid breathing and pulse, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, confusion or unconsciousness.
It is essential to treat heat illness as soon as possible. If you are feeling any of the above symptoms, inform a co-worker and ask for help. If you suspect that a fellow worker has any of these conditions, follow these first-aid tips:
- Heat cramps—Move the victim to a cooler area and allow them to drink approximately six ounces of water every 15 minutes. Follow up with a medical examination.
- Heat exhaustion—Move the victim to a cooler area and keep them lying down with their legs slightly elevated. Cool their body by fanning and applying cool, wet towels. If conscious, allow the victim to drink approximately six ounces of water every 15 minutes. Follow up with a medical examination.
- Heat stroke—You or a bystander should immediately call an ambulance. Meanwhile, move the victim to a cooler area, remove any outer clothing, immerse them in cool water or apply cool, wet towels or cloths to the body. Don’t give the victim liquids. If medical help is delayed, call the hospital for further instructions while waiting. Heat stroke is life-threatening, so it’s important to move quickly.
The risk of heat illness increases with age, poor diet, being overweight, insufficient liquid intake, poor physical condition and/or when taking medication (e.g., salt tablets). As such, be sure to discuss your unique risks with your doctor.
In addition, be aware of expected weather conditions each day so that you can be prepared with appropriate clothing and beverages. If you are working and start to feel any adverse symptoms due to heat, inform your supervisor and take a break.