It’s August and though summer will eventually turn to autumn, many hot days still lie ahead. And when the temperature gets too high, danger lurks for people who work outdoors in the form of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These are potentially life-threatening conditions that result from exposure to high temperatures combined with dehydration or salt depletion.
If you work outdoors in the summer heat or in another hot environment, taking time to understand the signs of heat-related illnesses could save your life or that of a co-worker.
Know the signs of heat-related illnesses
There are three general types of heat-related illnesses. From mild to severe, these are:
Heat cramps – Temporary in nature, heat cramps typically occur when someone vigorously exercises muscles in a hot environment. They manifest themselves in the form of painful involuntary muscle spasms, usually in the legs or arms.
Heat exhaustion – This condition occurs when a person is dehydrated and/or is depleted of salt. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, nausea, dizziness, confusion, fainting, rapid heartbeat, or vomiting. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
Heat stroke – This is a potentially fatal condition. Its hallmark symptom is a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher. People suffering heat stroke can also experience throbbing headache, lack of sweating, nausea, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, confusion, staggering, seizure, and unconsciousness.
Heat-related illnesses can have serious consequences
Generally speaking, heat cramps and heat exhaustion are temporary phenomena. Their symptoms go away and people feel much better after getting under shade, resting a while, and drinking some water.
But for others, heat exhaustion can lead to serious injuries. It can increase the heart rate, a matter of concern for people with heart problems because that can damage internal organs. And if someone becomes dizzy from heat exhaustion, it could lead to an accident, such as a fall from a height or an injury from a tool or piece of heavy equipment.
Heat stroke is an extremely serious matter. When it is not fatal, heat stroke can result in brain injury and damage to internal organs. People over the age of 50 are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke, though younger workers are also at risk.
Take care when working in hot environments
If you work outdoors in the summertime or in a hot environment indoors, take some simple common-sense precautions. Drink plenty of water, frequently rest and breaks in a cooler environment, preferably air-conditioned. And if you see a co-worker who is showing signs of heat stress, get medical help immediately.
Workers who have suffered a heat-related illness while on the job may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Speak with an experienced attorney to learn more about your legal options.