Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some even die. These illnesses and deaths are preventable. With the temperatures climbing this week, it is good to be aware of what the heat can do to your body.
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. It does this mainly through circulating blood to the skin and through sweating. When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. Sweating then becomes the main way the body cools off. But sweating is effective only if the humidity level is low enough to allow evaporation, and if the fluids and salts that are lost are adequately replaced. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. As the body continues to store heat, the person begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often fainting and even death if the person is not cooled down. Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention. Exposure to heat can also increase the risk of injuries because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and burns from hot surfaces or steam.
Many occupational factors increase your risk of heat illness more than just enjoying the afternoon in the sun. Workers at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments such as firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, and others. Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.
As well as watching out for others, you need to watch out for your own safety and welfare. Ways to prevent heat-related illnesses include: frequently drinking small amounts of water, eating regular meals and snacks, avoiding prolonged sun exposure, and taking breaks in shaded or air conditioned locations.
If you believe your employer is at fault for your recent heat related illness on the job, give us a call.