Managing Heat Risk in Hot Weather
As summer approaches and heat and humidity levels increase, FSIS employees are at greater risk for heat-related illnesses due to jobs in the field. Sometimes heat-related illness may even lead to death. It’s important that employees working in these conditions know the risks, warning signs and steps they can take to protect themselves from these heat-related illnesses.
In a warm environment, especially when physically active, the human body may lose its ability to auto-regulate and maintain a healthy internal body temperature. Not being able to cool itself could result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke. The body gets rid of excess heat through sweating. Whenever this mechanism is hindered, employees may experience symptoms such as thirst, irritability or cramping. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion may ensue.
Heat exhaustion is often a precursor to heat stroke and is associated with headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, thirst, heavy sweating, irritability, a decreased urine output and impaired mental processes.
Heat stroke may cause confusion, clumsiness, slurred speech, fainting/unconsciousness, hot dry skin, profuse sweating, seizures and high body temperature.
There are many risk factors for making a person more susceptible to heat-related illness such as:
- Limited air movement
- Direct sun exposure
- Not enough fluids
- PPE & clothing
- Physical exertion
- Recent exposure
- Advanced age
- High temperature and humidity
- Previous heat-related illness
- Indoor radiant heat sources
- Physical conditions and health problems
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water at the rate of 1 cup (8 oz.) of cool potable water every 15 to 20 minutes even if you are not thirsty.
- Hydrate before work. This makes it easier to stay hydrated through the day.
- Generally, fluid intake should not exceed 6 cups per hour. Drinking too much water or other fluids (sports drinks, energy drinks, etc.) can cause a medical emergency.
- Hydrate after work. Most people need several hours to drink enough fluids to replace what they lost through sweat.
Wear lightweight, breathable, light colored, loose-fitting garments. Change clothes often, especially if they feel saturated.
Take rest breaks in the shade or a cool area to avoid spending long periods of times in the heat.
- Avoid beverages such as alcohol and caffeinated energy drinks that can dehydrate the body. Drinking alcohol within 24 hours of working in the heat can increase the risk of heat illness. Drinking several energy drinks per day can raise your caffeine levels enough to affect your heart. High caffeine levels can be risky when added to the strain placed on your body by heat.
- Be aware that some medications’ (Benadryl and other cold and allergy medicines, Adderall, Ritalin, Bactrim, tetracycline, etc.) side effects may exacerbate the symptoms of heat-related illnesses. Consult your primary care physician or your pharmacist.
Supervisors should be aware of the employees’ symptoms.
- Supervisors should allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize or build tolerance for working in a hot environment.
- Supervisors should know the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses, monitor their employees and respond quickly.
- Supervisors should do verbal checks frequently with employees wearing face coverings or PPE.
- Supervisors should encourage their employees to check on each other.
Know the Symptoms
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Heat exhaustion is often a precursor to heat stroke and is associated with elevated core body temperatures from 100.4 °F to 102.2 °F. The employee may lose his or her ability to think clearly; planning, perception and other mental processes may become impaired. The individual may be unable to recognize dangerous situations. Be familiar with these symptoms of heat exhaustion.
- Elevated body temperature
- Heavy sweating
- Decreased urine output.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 °F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is delayed.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Loss of consciousness (coma)
- Hot dry skin, profuse sweating
- Confusion, (altered mental status, slurred speech)
- Very high body temperature (above 103 OF)
Steps to Save a Life During a Heat Stress Emergency
Heat Exhaustion Emergency Steps
- Take the employee to the Occupational Health clinic or nurse’s station for medical evaluation and treatment if one is available at the establishment.
- If medical care is unavailable, call 911.
- Ensure someone always stays with the employee until help arrives.
- Remove worker from hot area and give liquids to drink.
- Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
- Cool the worker with cold compresses or have the worker wash head, face, and neck with cold water.
- Encourage frequent sips of cool water.
If a person faints (short duration) and presents dizziness and/or light-headedness during prolonged standing or when suddenly rising from a sitting or lying position, have the employee sit or lie down in a cool place and slowly drink water, clear juice or a sports drink.
Heat Stroke Emergency Steps
- Call 911 for emergency medical care.
- Stay with worker until emergency medical services arrive.
- Move the worker to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing.
- Cool the worker quickly with a cold water or ice bath if possible; wet the skin, place cold wet cloths on skin, or soak clothing with cool water.
- Circulate the air around the worker to speed cooling.
- Place cold wet cloths or ice on head, neck, armpits and groin; or soak the clothing with cool water.