Safety Sunday: Heat Stress

From one contractor “We’ve had too many injuries lately…” to it “has been in the hundreds for about 3 weeks now. I collapsed on the jobsite… I always thought it was dudes being babies, but when you can’t lift a hammer out of your pouch and your legs fold up like noodles then you know it real.” These are just a few comments that popped up yesterday in some different threads on the Remodel Crazy forum. The worst part, I then get to add my own… “Glad you’re ok, I almost did the same d@mn thing to myself last Friday & I know better. Dittos with Greg on the 1/2 Gatorade or Accelerade mix – started doing that when I was cycling.”

Signs of Heat Stress or Distress:

  • Feeling Thirsty
  • Headache &/or Irritability
  • Feeling weak or fatigued
  • Dizziness &/or Confusion
  • Excessive Sweating &/or Clammy Feeling
  • Pale or Flushed Appearance
  • Nausea &/or Vomiting
  • You Stop Sweating
  • Fainting

Avoiding Heat Stress:

While we have covered many of these topics in depth (Working Safely in the Heat & the Sun & You) the following list provided by NIOSH for employees gives us a quick basic list for anyone working in a high heat environment.

  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton
    • Avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing
    • HTRC: If in the sun, don’t forget to wear a hat that can shade you’re neck, face & ears – The Sun & You
  • Gradually build up to heavy work
  • Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day
  • Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity
    • Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible
  • Drink water frequently. Drink enough water that you never become thirsty
    • Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and large amounts of sugar
    • HTRC: Be careful on just drinking water you do need to replace minerals lost, thus part of my original comment above on Gatorade- for more info see the Fluids section in the Working Safely in the Heat article
  • Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers

First Aid for Heat Stress:

Just like any injury one must diagnose how severe it is. Like any major injury, if someone faints, has stopped sweating, is incoherent, etc… the first step is to call 911 & then follow the steps below to stabilize & hopefully reverse the issue. Now, on the other hand, if you are feeling week, a tad nauseous, etc… it is important to stop the issue from getting any worse. You still need to be watchful for signs that it may be getting worse &/or if the issues are not improving within an hour, you need to seek medical help.

  • Move to & rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area.
  • Cool the body down by soaking the clothes with water, spraying or sponging water on your body & fanning.
  • Drink plenty of water or better yet a sports drink.
  • Do not return to strenuous work for a few hours, if at all for the day – the effects are cumulative & it will be easier to get into trouble later, than if you are fully rested & recovered.
  • When you get home or stop for the day, you should take a cool shower or bath and keep cool because your body is still trying to recover & might still need help regulating the temperature.