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Knowing the Signs: Heat-Related Illnesses at Work

Summer brings a lot of fun: picnics, vacations, outdoor activities and sports. However, with it comes an increase in temperatures and heat-related illnesses, even while at work. It is important to know the symptoms of these illnesses to keep your co-workers and employees safe.  It many cases, prompt attention is necessary to keep an incident from turning more serious.

The most common heat-related illnesses are heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Below are a list of the signs and treatments you need to know.

Heat rash. This raised rash most commonly occurs in areas where sweat and moisture accumulate; often in skin creases or areas of tight clothing where air cannot circulate. The most common symptoms are red bumps and a prickly or itchy feeling on the skin. The ras normally fades once the skin is allowed to dry and cool. The best prevention is to take breaks in a shaded or cool environment and to change out of wet clothes as soon as possible to let the area dry. Powders and sprays may also help keep the area dry.

Heat cramps. Without proper hydration, any sort of physical exertion in the heat can lead to cramps in the midsection and extremities (generally the calves, thighs and shoulders). These cramps can occur during activity in a hot environment or a few hours later. Heat cramps are believed to be caused by an imbalance in the body’s electrolytes. The most common treatment includes proper hydration – sports drinks and water – and taking periodic breaks in a cool area. It is important to see medical attention if the cramps do not stop after restoring fluid and electrolytes; they may be part of a more severe illness.

Heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can become serious if left untreated for too long. The two types of exhaustion are either from salt or water depletion – both of which are accompanied by excessive thirst, weakness, headache, nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, dizziness and loss of consciousness. Other symptoms of heat exhaustion include rapid heartbeat, heavy sweating, cool or moist skin and irritability.

Treatment for heat exhaustion includes resting in a cool area, drinking plenty of water, applying cool cloths or ice packs to forehead, neck or other pulse points and removing any tight or unnecessary clothing. If such measures fail to provide relief within 15 minutes, seek emergency medical help, because untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Heat stroke. Also commonly call sunstroke, heat stroke is a medical emergency and not something to be taken lightly. Heat stroke is usually accompanied by dehydration, which leads to the body’s loss of its temperature control system. The most common symptoms are:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Throbbing headache
  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature (104 degrees to 106 degrees F)

If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, do the following to cool their body temperature as rapidly as possible:

  • Get employee to a cool environment
  • Loosen or remove as much clothing as practical
  • Place cold packs in armpits, neck, other pulse areas
  • Fan them with an electric or improvised fan (piece of cardboard, etc)
  • Have them drink plenty of water if possible or poor cool water on them

For more advice on keeping people safe in the workplace, contact the experts at ExecuTeam Staffing. We connect job seekers and employers and help them advance their careers and improve their business. Contact us to learn more about our staffing services in Houston and the Gulf Coast Region.


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