Summer heat presents potential health hazards
/ Published May 08, 2007
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The old adage "Play with fire and you might get burned" could well be adapted to "Work or workout in the heat and you might get dead."
Working or exercising in the heat can cause heat-induced injuries ranging from cramps, fainting and rashes to life-threatening heat strokes, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati.
Heat also causes safety problems. More accidents happen in hot work areas than balmy ones, occupational safety experts said, blaming sweaty hands, dizziness and fogged safety glasses for many mishaps.
Safety officials said heat lowers mental alertness and physical performance.
Increased body temperature and physical discomfort cause irritability, anger and other emotional states that may distract and endanger workers.
Many accidents can be avoided, they said, if workers are trained to recognize and prevent heat stress.
The body needs five to seven days to adjust -- then workers are able to work in hot environments with less strain and distress. The experts also suggested employers implement work-rest cycles.
The experts and the Army's Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks described major, preventable heat-induced disorders.
Heat stroke can result in brain damage or death if treatment is delayed. It occurs when the body's temperature regulatory system fails. Cooling measures should be started immediately.
Symptoms include hot, dry, red or spotted skin. Body temperature soars to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and the casualty is mentally confused, delirious, perhaps in convulsions or unconscious.
The victim may also suffer headaches, dizziness, weakness, seizures and weak and rapid heartbeat and breathing.
First aid includes obtaining medical aid immediately, moving victims into a cool or shady area, loosening their clothing, immersing them in cool water or pouring water over them, fanning them, massaging their limbs and elevating their legs. A conscious victim should slowly drink at least one quart of cool water.
Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of salt and large amounts of fluid from sweating.
Symptoms resemble the early symptoms of heat-stroke and include profuse sweating with pale, moist, cool skin; headaches; weakness; dizziness; giddiness; loss of appetite; cramps; nausea; chills; rapid breathing; confusion; tingling of the hands and feet; and an urge to defecate.
Treatment includes having the victim rest in a cool place and drink plenty of liquids. Casualties with mild cases usually recover quickly; severe cases may require care for several days.
Officials said there are no known permanent effects from heat exhaustion, but they warn persons with heart problems or those on low-sodium diets should consult their doctor about possible consequences.
Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur when a person who sweats profusely drinks large amounts of water, but doesn't replace the body's salt loss. The muscles normally affected are those used in performing work. The cramps can occur during or after work.
Treatment includes moving the victim to a cool or shady area, loosening clothing and having him or her slowly drink at least a canteen of water.
Fainting occurs when a worker not acclimated to heat stands erect and immobile, such as standing at attention in a military formation. The victim should recover soon after lying down.
Further fainting can be avoided by moving around to prevent the blood from pooling in one area.
Heat rash, or prickly heat, occurs when sweat isn't removed from the skin in a hot, humid environment and the sweat ducts become plugged.
Officials said this condition can be prevented by resting in a cool place part of the day and by regularly bathing and drying the skin.
Transient heat fatigue is temporary discomfort and mental or psychological strain caused by a prolonged exposure to heat. Victims can suffer a decline in work performance, coordination, alertness and vigilance.
The severity of the illness can be lessened by periods of gradual adjustment to hot environments, officials said.