It’s getting hot in here, really it is!
Many states across the US are seeing summer temps soar and coupled with wearing face masks, things are feeling hotter.
Remaining cool and covered during these hot spells is paramount to your health. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) cautions about working in hot environments. If you are a chef, construction worker, factory worker, and many others, you are at a greater risk of heat stress. But you don’t have to be working in the heat to have a heat-stress related injury.
Too Hot to Work or Play
July 4th weekend my friend landed herself in the hospital due to heat stress. She was diagnosed with heat exhaustion. She had been running with her dogs in an open field playing the sport of dog agility. While she had been mindful of keeping her dogs cool with plenty of fans, freshwater and even wetting them down, she neglected herself! After a few minutes, she was dizzy, nauseous and eventually, she fainted, which caused us to get her to the hospital. Other friends stepped up to continue care for her dogs until her husband could come to collect them.
The chart above provided by the CDC is helpful to use as a reference for the symptoms you might be having if you are in a hot environment like my friend was.
What It Heat Stress Is Like
I have experienced heat exhaustion once in my life and it was when I was on a mission to save my parents! We had chosen to go biking in the hills of Western Maryland, while the day wasn’t too hot in temperature, what we forgot to factor in was the humidity. It was brutal. When the atmosphere around you is so humid, the moisture (sweat) your body produces to evaporate and thus cool you, can’t. You remain hot and wet instead of cooler and dryer.
This particular day my parents started to get the symptoms of heat exhaution so we stopped under a shadded tree. We needed more water so I continued on to a store and bought more. By the time I got back to where my parents were resting, I was feeling the effects too. I knew at this point I needed to rest and then go get the car.
We took our time and thankfully did not need medical care, but we were close.
Our symptoms were nausea, chills, lethargy, dizziness and my mother had terrible muscle cramps.
This of course was pre-COVID-19 so I didn’t need to further cover up when I went to the store. I could only imagine working in a food truck, kitchen or even road construction in that heat and humidity with a mask on. It would be incredibly hot and not only would my face be covered, but I would also be less likely to drink water given what I would consider is a hassle to remove my mask. That is where we need to change our way of thinking. We need to be more conscious now that we have a new normal and we have to be more diligent in remaining safe.
Prevent Heat Stress
People say this all the time but it bears repeating, take care of yourself by drinking plenty of water and taking breaks. The new normal may bring new challenges but we need to be aware of our own health so that we can all survive these challenges.
If you are working or hanging out in a hot environment make certain you have
- Plenty of airflow, get multiple fans and create cross-breezes (fans pulling air from areas outside and directing inside with their breezes creating a cross or X pattern
- Use reflective or heat-absorbing shielding or barriers
- Reduce exposure to steam and humidity
To keep yourself safe in a hot work environment:
- Limit time in the heat and/or increase recovery time spent in a cool environment
- Implement a buddy system where workers observe each other for signs of heat intolerance
- Self-monitoring and create a workgroup (i.e., workers, a qualified healthcare provider, and a safety manager) to make decisions on self-monitoring options and standard operating procedures
- Have easy access to potable water and encourage everyone to drink frequently
- Implement a heat alert program whenever the weather service forecasts that a heatwave is likely to occur
- Institute a heat acclimatization plan and increase physical fitness
The above holds true for any outdoor activities as well. Have access to areas to cool down, create a buddy system so someone else is watching out for you. Heat can mess with your head and cause confusion, you do not want to be confused about when you need to go cool down.
Before you work or go play on a hot day take the extra precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe. Water, air, and shade are your best friends, have them available before you attempt anything on a warm day.