Thousands of workers are injured every year due to becoming overheated at work. Some even die. Although these injuries spike during summer months, heat stress and heat stroke can occur throughout the year. The good news is that most of these injuries are entirely preventable. Read on for more information about workplace heat illnesses and how to dramatically reduce your risk of serious injury and death.
The body continuously regulates its internal temperature. When a person begins to overheat, the body attempts to cool itself through the process of sweating. When the air surrounding the person is cool enough, the sweating process is generally effective. But if the surrounding air is too warm, or the person’s clothing doesn’t allow the sweat to evaporate off the skin, the situation can become quite dangerous. This is a common hazard during summer months, but it can even occur in winter if indoor work environments have poor ventilation and air circulation. A Boston work injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured on the job.
The four main medical issues that can arise when a person overheats are:
- Heat cramps: When strenuous activity is coupled with a hot environment or clothing that prohibits proper sweating, heat cramps may occur. Heat cramps can be quite painful, and often result in muscle spasms. In addition to high internal temperatures, heat cramps can also be a result of dehydration and loss of salt in the body. If you develop heat cramps, immediately move to a cool place and rest. Drink plenty of fluids; sports drinks are good for replacing both fluid and If you are still experiencing heat cramps after one hour, contact your physician.
- Heat rash: When the body sweats excessively because hot environmental temperatures or restrictive clothing prevent sweat from evaporating off the skin properly, the skin may become irritated. The small clusters of red pimples or blisters are often located on the neck or upper chest, under the breasts, in the groin, and on the inside of elbows. Heat rash can be treated by moving to a cooler area, and keeping the affected skin dry. Heat rash usually clears up on its own.
- Heat exhaustion: When the body becomes unable to self-regulate its internal temperature, heat exhaustion may occur. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, pale skin, severe headache, vomiting, and even fainting. The skin may actually feel cool to the touch. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop working immediately, move to a cool place, remove excessive clothing, and drink plenty of fluids. If the symptoms haven’t stopped within one hour, seek immediate medical attention. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if left untreated.
- Heat stroke: When a person ignores the signs of heat exhaustion, or all attempts to cool down the body have failed, heat stroke may occur. In fact, the human body can rise to an internal temperature of more than 106 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 15 minutes. At that temperature, the brain and other important organs can suffer serious damage. Heat stroke can cause permanent disability. It can even be fatal. Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, dry and red skin, absence of sweat, fast pulse, severe headache, dizziness, confusion, vomiting, and unconsciousness. If you suspect that you are suffering from heat stroke, move to a cool place and call for medical attention immediately.
A MA work injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke in the Workplace
- Workers should be made aware of the dangers of working in a hot environment.
- Rotations and breaks should be used to prevent workers from remaining in hot environments for extended periods.
- Cool areas and access to water should be made available to all workers.
- Workers wearing protective gear that doesn’t breathe should be given more breaks and shorter rotations.
- New workers should be gradually acclimated to higher temperatures.
- Employers should consider the heat index – not just the temperature – when determining whether it’s safe to work outside, and for how long. Extreme caution should be used when the heat index reaches 90 degrees or above.