Summer has cranked up the heat across the country and the American Red Cross warns that excessive heat in recent years has caused more deaths than all other weather events. There are three weather warnings for high temps including excessive heat watch, excessive heat warning and heat advisory – all of which include prolonged (two or more days), excessive temperatures (exceed locally defined warning heat index values, usually with daytime highs at 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit).
Exposure to direct sunlight can increase the heat index by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and extreme heat combined with high humidity can significantly affect the body. The body’s warning signs including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke or sunstroke warrant immediate attention.
Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen caused by exposure to high heat and humidity and loss of fluids and electrolytes.
Heat exhaustion is a more severe condition that typically occurs when the body loses significant fluid through heavy sweating during strenuous exercise or physical labor in high heat and humidity. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; dizziness; weakness and exhaustion. If this occurs, the person should move to a cooler place, remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Rehydrate by slowly drinking small amounts of cool water. If a person suffering heat exhaustion refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
A heatstroke or sunstroke is a life-threatening condition where the body’s temperature control system stops working and the body is unable to cool itself. Signs of a heatstroke include hot, red skin, which may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness, vomiting and high body temperature. The same recovery measures can be used as for someone experiencing heat exhaustion. Additionally, if needed, continue rapid cooling by applying ice or cold packs wrapped in a cloth to the wrists, ankles, groin, neck or armpits. At the first signs of a heat stroke, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
Heat safety tips from the American Red Cross:
- Stay up-to-date on local weather forecasts and upcoming temperature changes.
- Discuss heat safety precautions with members of your household and have a plan for wherever you spend time – home, work and school – to prepare for the possibility of power outages.
- Check the contents of your emergency preparedness kit in case a power outage occurs. Visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security online for tips on building an emergency supply kit.
- If you do not have air conditioning, choose places you could go for relief – especially during the warmest parts of the day.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty, and avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
- Eat small meals and eat more often.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing and avoid dark colors, which absorb the sun’s rays.
- Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest parts of the day.
- Postpone outdoor games and activities.
- Never leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles.
- Use a buddy system when working in excessive heat.
- Take frequent breaks if you must work outdoors.
- Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.
- Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
- Help your neighbors who are elderly, young, sick or overweight. They are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
- Be sure your animals’ needs for water and shade are met and check on them frequently to make sure they are not suffering from the heat.
- Employers should use engineering controls that can help reduce workers’ exposure to heat including air conditioning, increased general ventilation, cooling fans, local exhaust ventilation at points of high heat production or moisture, reflective shields to redirect radiant heat, insulation of hot surfaces and elimination of steam leaks.
- Employers should have an emergency plan in place that specifies what to do if a worker has signs of heat-related illness, and ensures that medical services are available if needed.
- Employers should take steps that help workers become acclimatized (gradually build up exposure to heat), especially workers who are new to working in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week of work.
- Workers must have adequate potable (safe for drinking) water close to the work area, and should drink small amounts frequently.
- Rather than being exposed to heat for extended periods of time, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work/rest cycles.
- If possible, physical demands should be reduced during hot weather, or heavier work scheduled for cooler times of the day.
- Rotating job functions among workers can help minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
Find additional heat safety tips for the workplace visit OSHA online.
American Red Cross
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Occupational Safety and Health Administration