As we edge our way closer to the hot summer months, the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke increases. In 2019, there were 43 work-related deaths due to environmental heat exposure according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2020, a staggering 1,153 people lost their lives to the effects of heat.
So whether you’re a landscaper, construction worker, or mechanic who works outside, it’s important to take precautions to stay cool and safe in the hot weather.
In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms of heat stroke and share some top tips for beating the heat to stay comfortable and safe when working outdoors. From keeping hydrated, to wearing the right clothing and taking breaks when needed, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make the most of your time outside without putting your health at risk.
Learn the Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Before we go into how to stay cool in the heat outside, let’s first discuss two conditions associated with prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke is crucial in preventing them from becoming severe.
Of the two conditions, heat exhaustion is less severe. It’s characterized by the body’s loss of electrolytes. If you experience any of these following symptoms, it is essential to take a break and cool down immediately. Move to a shaded area or an air-conditioned room and drink plenty of fluids, preferably water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes.
Here are some common signs of heat exhaustion:
- Heavy sweating
- Weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Headache or muscle cramps
On the other hand, heat stroke is a very serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer regulate its core temperature, putting vital organs at risk of shutting down. Therefore, it is critical to recognize the symptoms of heat stroke, and if you or someone you know experiences any of the following, immediately seek emergency medical assistance.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- An individual stops sweating
- Severe, migraine-like headaches
- Trouble speaking
- Dizziness and/or vertigo
- A high body temperature and skin that’s hot to the touch
- An elevated pulse rate or rapid breathing
- Losing consciousness
The Role of Sweating and Keeping Cool
Sweating is the body’s natural defense mechanism against overheating. When an individual begins to overheat, he or she will sweat to cool off. The perspiration takes heat away from the body as it evaporates, thereby lowering the individual’s core body temperature.
In cases of heat stroke, however, the individual will stop sweating. And without sweat perspiring from the body, there’s no outlet for the heat to escape. Depending on the severity of the condition, their skin may feel dry and arid, which is a red flag for heat stroke. If you believe someone is suffering from a heat stroke, it’s a workplace emergency: call 911 immediately!
Understanding OSHA’s Role in Heat-Illness Prevention
Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety and health hazards, including heat-related hazards. To prevent heat-related incidents, and potential OSHA violations, it’s important for both employers and workers to familiarize themselves with regulations and guidelines.
Remember to consult OSHA’s website resources on heat illness prevention. For example, the heat stress calculator is a great tool to determine whether a worker’s heat stress exceeds recommended limits, by body weight, workload, and clothing.
Tips For Staying Cool Outside In The Summer Heat
Now that you are aware of the dangers of working in hot weather, and the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, let’s discuss some top tips for staying cool and safe when outside.
- Dress Appropriately: Wear clothes made of lightweight (and light-colored), breathable fabrics that allow air circulation and promote sweat evaporation. Opt for loose-fitting garments and consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head and face from direct sunlight.
- Hydrate Frequently: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and sugary beverages as they can contribute to dehydration.
- Apply Sunscreen: Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 and reapply every two hours. Sunburn can increase your risk of dehydration and heat-related illnesses.
- Seek Shade: Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight by staying in shaded areas whenever possible. This can provide significant relief from the heat.
- Manage Physical Exertion: Limit your physical exertion during the hottest parts of the day. Schedule demanding tasks or activities for cooler times, such as early mornings or late evenings.
- Take Regular Breaks: If you’re working outside during the summer, take short 5-10 minute breaks every hour to rest and cool down. Use this time to find shade and rehydrate.
- Cooling Measures: Use cooling measures, like a water mister, to lower your body temperature. Wrap a wet towel around your head or neck for instant relief. Consider using cooling vests, bandanas, or neckbands that can be soaked in water to provide prolonged cooling.
- Consider Medications: Be aware that certain medications may increase the risk of heat-related illness. Consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns about the medications you are taking.
- Adjust Working Hours: Whenever possible, try to schedule outdoor work during the cooler parts of the day, such as mornings or evenings, when the sun hasn’t reached its peak intensity.
- Acclimate to the Heat: Ideally, gradually increase your exposure to the heat over several days or weeks to help your body adjust to the temperature changes.
Working outdoors in hot weather can be challenging, but taking necessary precautions can help prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries. Remember to prioritize your health and well-being when working in hot weather conditions. Understand the dangers of heat-related illnesses and take proactive measures to stay cool when working outside in the heat. By incorporating OSHA guidelines into your heat safety practices, you can create a safer working environment and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses for yourself and your coworkers. By following the tips mentioned above–such as dressing appropriately, staying hydrated, seeking shade, and managing physical exertion–you can significantly reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and ensure a safer working environment.
This is a revision to a blog post with an original publication date of July 9, 2014