Staying Safe During Extreme Heat

Tue, May 14, 2024 at 7:55AM

FRSA Staff

Extreme heat is defined as summertime temperatures that are much hotter or more humid than average. Because some places are hotter than others, this depends on what’s considered average for a particular location at that time of year. Humid and muggy conditions can make it seem hotter than it really is, something we often experience in Florida.

Heat related illness and death are largely preventable with proper planning, education and action. The federal government website,, serves as a source of heat and health information to reduce health, economic and infrastructural impacts of extreme heat.

Exposure to extreme heat can have many direct effects on human health (heat stroke, reduced labor productivity), as well as indirect effects (promoting air pollution, increasing asthma attacks, overloading power grids). Negative health outcomes occur if an individual is exposed to the hazard and has not sufficiently adapted to reduce sensitivity. Make sure your employees can recognize symptoms of extreme heat and know what to do to keep everyone safe on the jobsite.

What happens to the body as a result of exposure to extreme heat? People suffer heat-related illness when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate temperature include old age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use.

What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

What are the warning signs of a heat stroke? Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:

  • an extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
  • red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
  • rapid, strong pulse
  • throbbing headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • unconsciousness.

What should you do if you see someone with any of the warning signs of heat stroke? If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:

  • Get the victim to a shady area
  • Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can – on the jobsite, consider spraying with a garden hose.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

What is heat exhaustion? Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure and those working in a hot environment.

What are the warning signs of heat exhaustion? The warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • heavy sweating
  • paleness
  • muscle cramps
  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fainting.

The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

What steps can be taken to cool the body during heat exhaustion?

  • drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • rest
  • take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath
  • seek an air-conditioned environment
  • wear lightweight clothing.

What are heat cramps and who is affected? Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs, that may occur in association with strenuous activity. Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Sport drinks contain sodium that can replenish salt loss.

What should I do if I have heat cramps? If medical attention is not necessary, take the following steps:

  • stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place
  • drink clear juice or a sports beverage
  • do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside within one hour.

What is heat rash? Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts and in elbow creases.

What is the best treatment for heat rash? The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.

How can people protect their health when temperatures are extremely high? Remember to keep cool and use common sense. Drink plenty of fluids, replace salts and minerals, wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen, pace yourself, take breaks when working in the sun, find shade, monitor those at risk and adjust to the environment.

How much should I drink during hot weather? During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. During work in a hot environment, drink enough non-alcoholic cool fluids each hour to maintain normal amount and color of urine output.

Pace yourself. If you are not accustomed to working in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least in the shade and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak or faint.


Bookmark & Share