Do you know the warning signs of heat stress?
One health and safety issue that can be a major concern for many industries is heat stress. In fact, around 30 employees die each year from heat-related injuries or illnesses.
Recognizing the warning signs of heat stress can help prevent serious health complications and ensure the safety of workers. In this blog, we'll explore the various types of diseases and injuries caused by heat stress, as well as the signs to look for and how to manage them.
What Is Heat Stress?
When someone is exposed to high temperatures and humidity for an extended period of time without receiving a break or hydration, they may experience heat stress. Heat-related illnesses and injuries, such as heat cramps or heat stroke, are often brought on by heat stress. Heat stress affects people in different ways.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1,714 heat-related deaths in 2022 alone. According to the annual Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report, heat-related deaths are expected to rise 370% by mid-century.
If you or someone you know falls into one of these categories, they are at a higher risk for heat stress:
- Employees who work in the heat (construction, landscaping, delivery services, warehousing, distribution, and many more)
- Infants and young children (never leave kids unattended in a car)
- Individuals 65+
- Anyone who is ill, overweight, has chronic health conditions or is taking certain medications
Being able to recognize warning signs and prevent heat stress is crucial for employee safety.
What Are the Symptoms of Heat Stress?
Heat stress symptoms can appear quickly or gradually, especially after extended exertion. Possible signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Goosebumps and cool, wet skin in the heat
- Excessive perspiration
- Weak, rapid pulse
- When standing, your blood pressure drops
- Muscle cramping
Be aware of the symptoms and how to properly respond.
Different Types of Heat-Related Illnesses and Injury
Heat Cramps - Heat cramps are the mildest kind of heat stress, and they are typically accompanied by severe muscular cramps and spasms that occur during or after excessive effort and sweating in hot weather.
Heat Exhaustion - Heat exhaustion is brought on by the body losing salt and water and is far more dangerous than heat cramps. Because the body cannot efficiently cool itself, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke if left untreated.
Heat Rash - Heat rash arises when sweat becomes trapped in the skin. Heat rash in adults frequently happens in skin creases and where clothing rubs against the skin.
OSHA Heat Stress Standards
Currently, OSHA does not have a specific federal standard for heat exposure in workplaces. However, the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Section 5(a)(1)) requires employers to provide a workplace "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees." This clause can be used to cite employers for failing to protect workers from heat hazards.
Several states, including California, Washington, Minnesota, Oregon, and Colorado, have adopted their own heat standards with specific requirements for employers to protect workers from heat stress. If you're unsure about the regulations in your state, consult the website of your state's OSHA-approved plan or contact them directly.
How To Treat Heat Stress at Work
Treating heat stress can help prevent it from escalating into a more severe condition like heat stroke. Here are steps to treat heat stress at work:
- Call a manager for help. If the manager is unavailable, call 911.
- As soon as support comes, have someone sit down with the worker.
- Move the employee to a cooler, shaded place.
- Remove their outer clothes.
- Apply ice, fan the employee, and apply ice bags or wet towels.
- If you can, offer them some cold water to drink.
If the employee is unconscious or disoriented, they may have suffered a heat stroke. You should begin CPR immediately and call 911. It is essential to remember that adopting preventative measures to avoid heat-related illnesses or accidents is the most effective approach. Here are a few tips on how you can minimize the risk of heat-related injuries or deaths:
- Change or update work shifts to ensure employees are adjusting to the temperature changes
- Have water easily accessible for employees and remind them to drink water to stay hydrated
- Ensure all employees know the signs of heat stress
- Allow time for breaks to cool down, especially during the heat of the day
- Provide “shady” spots and/or sun protection garments for employees (sun shirts, hats, glasses, etc.)
Get Started With AdvanceOnline Today
Recognizing the warning signs of heat stress can be the difference between life and death for those working in hot environments. By understanding these symptoms and taking prompt action to address them, employers and coworkers can prevent heat-related illnesses from escalating into more serious conditions like heat stroke. However, preparation is key, and having the knowledge and skills to respond effectively to medical emergencies is essential.
Consider enrolling in our online First Aid and CPR course to teach you how to provide immediate assistance in situations of heat stress and other health emergencies. Take action today and contribute to a safer, healthier workplace for everyone. Head to our website to get started!