Spot and Stop Worker Heat Stress

Tacy CalliesTip of the Week, Weather

heat stress
© Florida Department of Citrus

By Amir Rezazadeh

Heat stress happens when the body is exposed to extreme heat in a hot environment. Heat-related illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rashes or heat stroke. Other signs of heat stress include sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses and dizziness.

Those who work outdoors or in hot environments are at risk of heat stress. Workers who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications may be at greater risk of heat stress.  

The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke. When the worker is exposed to very hot and humid conditions, the body is unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature can rise rapidly to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. The sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Heat stroke can result in coma or death.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Seizures
  • Very high body temperature
  • Hot and dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Loss of consciousness (coma)
  • Confusion, altered mental status and slurred speech

What to do:

  • Call 911 immediately for emergency medical care.
  • Move the worker to a cooler environment and remove outer clothing.
  • Stay with the victim until emergency medical services arrive.
  • Cool the worker quickly with cold water or an ice bath.
  • Circulate the air around the worker using a fan.
  • Apply a cold wet cloth or ice on head, neck and armpits.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers who are elderly or have high blood pressure are at higher risk of heat exhaustion.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Thirst
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased urine output

What to do:

  • Move the victim to a cool area.
  • Call 911 or take the worker to an emergency room.
  • Stay with the worker until help arrives.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing, including socks and shoes.
  • Provide cold water for the worker to slowly sip.

In most cases, heat stress can be prevented, or the risk of developing heat stress can be reduced. Workers can follow these tips to help prevent heat stress:

  • Clothing: Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, such as cotton, to allow sweat to evaporate. Clothes with light colors absorb less heat than dark colors. When working outdoors, wear a hat to keep the sun off your head and face.
  • Drinking: Drink water frequently to replace fluids lost from sweating. Avoid drinking coffee because it is a diuretic and causes more frequent urination.
  • Work schedule: If possible, avoid working during the warmer parts of the day. Minimize the amount of time working outdoors when the temperature humidity index is between 84 and 93.

Amir Rezazadeh is a multi-county fruit and field crops Extension agent at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences St. Lucie County Extension office in Fort Pierce.

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