As I write this, most of the country, from the Dakotas to New England, has been suffering wave after wave of record-high temperatures often approaching, and in some cases exceeding, 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat has been accompanied by unrelenting humidity. It’s not over. August can be a scorcher, too, in many regions of the United States.
Some of us are fortunate and have access to fans and air conditioners in our workplaces. Those of you installing and maintaining landscapes out in the elements really have no escape.
The combination of heat and humidity can cause a variety of medical conditions, with heat stress and heat stroke the two major hazards. Heat stroke, in fact, can be fatal.
Here are some things you need to know to keep you and your employees safe for the remainder of this season.
The most serious heat-related illness, heat stroke happens when the body’s temperature rises quickly, sweating mechanisms fail and the body can’t cool down. When this happens, the body can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Symptoms can include profuse sweating with hot, dry skin; chills; headache; confusion and/or dizziness; and slurred speech.
To help someone suffering from heat stroke, be sure to move them into a cool, shaded area, and cool them off by spraying them with water and fanning their body.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to a loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Symptoms include heavy sweating; extreme weakness or fatigue; nausea; pale complexion; muscle cramps; dizziness and confusion; and clammy, moist skin.
If a co-worker is suffering from heat exhaustion, make sure they rest in a cool, shaded area, and have them drink plenty of cool water.
A fainting episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing. Factors that contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and a lack of acclimatization. Symptoms include light-headedness, dizziness and fainting.
Someone suffering from this hazard needs to sit or lie down in a cool place, and slowly drink water, clear juice or a sports drink.
Heat cramps can affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity, as sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. The low-salt levels in muscles case painful cramps, but be aware that heat cramps can also be a sign of heat exhaustion.
Workers with heat cramps need to stop what they are doing and sit in a cool place, and drink clear juice or a sports drink. It’s best to stay away from strenuous work for a few hours, as further exertion could lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
One of the most important things to do when the temperatures rise is to stay hydrated – and that doesn’t mean to just drink water while you’re out on the job site. You should drink before you head out, while you’re working, and after you’ve finished for the day. Make sure you drink enough fluids so you don’t feel thirsty.
It’s also a good idea to take more breaks than you normally would in cooler weather. If possible, move your schedule around a little bit so that jobs that are more strenuous are performed during the cooler parts of the day, either first thing in the morning or evening hours. And make sure to watch out for other employees as well, as the heat can affect different people in different ways.
Amy K. Hill