If I told you that four people will die today in the U.S. as a result of a heat-related illness, you might be skeptical.
But it’s true. A recent analysis of heat-related fatalities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that 702 people die on average in the U.S. every year from heat-related illness. And 90% of these deaths occur between May and September, which means there are about four heat-related fatalities every day in the summer.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the heat-related fatalities are 100% preventable.
First, it’s important to understand why people are at risk for heat stroke, the most severe heat-related illness. When you’re working in high temperatures and your body can’t eliminate the extra heat because the air temperature is too high, your core body temperature starts to rise, which increases your heart rate and puts you at risk for a fatal injury.
Before that happens, however, your body will exhibit warning signs that something isn’t right. You should get out of the heat if you experience any of the following symptoms:
• a lack of sweat
• a body temperature of 104ºF or higher
• confusion, delirium, or hallucinations
• a rapid pulse
• hot, dry, red, or mottled skin
• dilated pupils
Of course your best bet is to take protective measures before you start to experience the symptoms of heat stroke.
(Does anyone know when we’re most at risk for heat stroke?)
You’re most at risk for heat stroke when you’re starting a new job or when you’re returning from an absence of a week or more. That’s because it can take up to seven days of high-heat exposure before your body undergoes the changes needed to make the heat more bearable.
For that reason, you should try to slowly ramp up your exposure to the heat. Example: After you’ve been off for an extended time period, spend 20% of your normal time in the high heat on your first day back, then go to 40% of your normal time on the second day back. Continue that pattern for five days, until you’re able to spend 100% of your normal time in the high heat.
Because the No. 1 reason for heat stroke is dehydration, you should drink two cups of water before you start working in the heat, then consume five to seven ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes thereafter.
You also want to dress smartly. Wear loose, lightweight clothing that allows moisture to quickly evaporate. Choose cotton clothing when you can.
Thanks for your attention. And remember, let’s stay safe out there!
(From the June 28, 2021 issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)