Managing Heat-Related Illnesses at Work

As temperatures rise and summer peaks, the risk of heat-related illnesses becomes a growing concern in work environments with heat hazards. Whether your employees spend hours indoors or outdoors, the threat of these illnesses cannot be ignored and that is why some states require employees to take action to prevent heat-related illnesses.

Heat strokes, dehydration, or a heat rash, it’s essential that your business has safety measures in place to detect signs and symptoms of heat-related illness in case of a life-threatening emergency. By implementing a strategic plan with a heat illness prevention program, you can ensure the safety of your business and employees. Here is a guide to managing heat-related illnesses at work.

What are Heat-Related Illnesses?

Heat-related illnesses are medical conditions that happen when the body’s temperature regulation system is overwhelmed by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and excessive heat. These illnesses can range from mild to more severe and life-threatening, making it crucial for you to be aware of their symptoms and take appropriate action.

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

Let’s explore several types of heat-related illnesses that can affect individuals exposed to extreme heat.

Minor heat-related illnesses include:

  • Heat cramps: Muscle cramps and spasms that happen during or after intense physical activity in high-temperature environments.
  • Heat rash: A skin condition that develops into small red bumps or blisters when the sweat glands become clogged. This is also known as prickly heat, sweat rash, or miliaria.

Other types of heat-related illness also include:

  • Heat edema which is swelling in the hands or feet.
  • Heat tetany which results in rapid breathing.
  • Heat syncope which is fainting.

Severe heat-related illnesses are potentially fatal if immediate care is not provided. These types include:

  • Heat exhaustion: The body becomes extremely overheated and unable to cool itself, generally caused by excessive sweating leading to dehydration. Keep in mind that heat exhaustion can also worsen and become life-threatening.
  • Heatstroke: The most severe and life-threatening form of heat-related illness is due to high body temperature, often exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). When the body’s temperature rises to a dangerous level, it can cause major damage to internal and vital organs. Medical attention is required immediately when someone has a heatstroke.
  • Severe Dehydration: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures and lack of water or fluid intake can lead to severe dehydration, causing the body to lose excessive water and electrolytes. This can potentially result in organ failure if left untreated.

Understanding the various types of heat-related illnesses is vital for detecting early signs and symptoms to prevent further health complications. With high temperatures, more physical exertion, and extra layers of clothing, workers at facilities can be at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.

Signs and Symptoms to Look For

Depending on the type of illness, signs and symptoms may vary; however, generally, mild symptoms may include sweating, heat bumps or breakouts, rapid heartbeat, cramps, weakness, fatigue, headache, and nausea.

In severe cases, you’ll tend to see symptoms like heavy sweating, confusion, dizziness, vomiting, unconsciousness, and fainting. Remember if you come across an individual with signs and symptoms that appear extreme, seek medical attention immediately.

Although heat-related illnesses and conditions vary, and symptoms may differ, ensure that you keep a close eye on individuals who show these signs. For best practices refer to your training manual and supervisor for first aid guidance.

How to Prepare for a Medical Emergency

To prepare for a medical emergency related to heat-related illnesses, all employees including supervisors should have heat safety training that is included in a Heat Illness Prevention Program. At GMG EnviroSafe, our HealthAssure® experts offer a comprehensive Heat Illness Prevention Program (HIPP) designed to help your employees feel safe, secure, and prepared for heat hazards and medical emergencies. By committing to a Heat Illness Prevention Program, everyone on site can manage heat-related illnesses, prioritizing well-being in the workforce.  

Whether there is a mild or severe emergency, it’s important to always be prepared. For mild cases, carefully assess the individual and provide appropriate care based on their symptoms. Additionally, review your Heat Illness Prevention Program so you know which emergency facility is closest to you in case of an urgent situation.

Although each case will vary by condition here are some general tips to consider:

  • Move the individual to a shaded or cooler area.
  • Ensure adequate medical services are available (if the individual shows severe signs and symptoms contact emergency medical services immediately)
  • Help lower the individual’s temperature with cool cloths.
  • Provide drinking water.

Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

Preventing heat-related illnesses is the best way to avoid emergencies.

Supervisors on the job should:

  • Encourage and provide drinking water (have required water breaks).
  • Encourage employees to wear sunscreen (if working outdoors).
  • Encourage employees to remove heavy protective clothing during rest breaks.
  • Reschedule work to cooler parts of the day on high-temperature days.
  • Implement frequently scheduled rest breaks throughout the workday.
  • Acclimatize employees before starting work in high-heat areas.

It’s also vital to have open conversations with your employees and discuss the first aid and emergency protocols. By fostering a culture of knowledge and preparedness, you can all respond effectively to any heat-related emergency.

Heat-related illnesses pose a significant risk in the workplace, especially during extremely hot weather. To ensure the safety of your employees, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of these illnesses and have a strategic plan in place to address medical emergencies and prevent serious health complications.

By implementing a Heat Illness Prevention Program (HIPP) you can foster a sense of safety and security in the workplace. This program helps you identify your workplace heat hazards and is guaranteed to provide comprehensive guidelines and strategies to mitigate heat-related risks at your facility, including proper hydration, rest breaks, shaded areas, and education on recognizing symptoms.

Take action today to get your facility a comprehensive Heat Illness Prevention Program. Our HealthAssure® experts make it easy and simple to ensure your employees are healthy and safe in your workplace.

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