By: Ryan Clayton

Throughout the summer months we should be expecting some extremely hot days, however we must take in consideration that our health is as important as getting the job done. Understanding common heat incidents will not only allow the work to be done but more importantly keep you safe out of the hospital.

What Happens To the Body?

Working in extreme heat conditions can wear on one’s body. The human body, being warm blooded, maintains a quite constant internal temperature, even though it is being exposed to varying environmental temperatures. To keep internal body temperatures within safe limits, the body must get rid of its excess heat, primarily through varying the rate and amount of blood circulation through the skin and the release of sweat onto the skin. These automatic responses usually occur when the temperature of the blood exceeds your normal temperature of 98.6oF. In this process of lowering body temperature, the heart begins to pump more blood, and blood vessels expand to accommodate the increased flow. The blood circulates closer to the surface of the skin, and the excess heat is lost to the cooler environment.

As environmental temperatures approach normal skin temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. If air temperature is as warm as or warmer than the skin, blood brought to the body surface cannot lose its heat. Under these conditions, the heart continues to pump blood to the body surface, the sweat glands pour liquids containing electrolytes onto the surface of the skin and the evaporation of the sweat becomes the principal effective means of maintaining a constant body temperature. Sweating does not cool the body unless the moisture is removed from the skin by evaporation. Under conditions of high humidity, the evaporation of sweat from the skin is decreased and the body's efforts to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired. These conditions adversely affect an individual's ability to work in the hot environment. With so much blood going to the external surface of the body, relatively less goes to the active muscles, the brain, and other internal organs; strength declines; and fatigue occurs sooner than it would otherwise. Alertness and mental capacity also may be affected. Workers who must perform delicate or detailed work may find their accuracy suffering, and others may find their comprehension and retention of information lowered.

  1. Heat Exhaustion-Symptoms: Heavy sweating, headache, light-headed, nausea/vomiting, tingling sensations. Temp 99-104 F
  2. Heat Stroke- Symptoms: Elevated temperature plus central nervous system disturbance, absence of sweating, can begin as heat exhaustion. Temperature 101-102 F.
  3. Heat Cramps- painful spasms of the muscles that occur among those who sweat profusely in heat, drink large quantities of water, but do not adequately replace the body's salt loss.
  4. Fainting - A worker who is not accustomed to hot environments and who stands erect and immobile in the heat may faint.

What Can You Do?

  1. Prepare for the heat. On the first day of work in a hot environment, the body temperature, pulse rate, and general discomfort will be higher. With each succeeding daily exposure, all of these responses will gradually decrease, while the sweat rate will increase. When the body becomes acclimated to the heat, the worker will find it possible to perform work with less strain and distress.
  2. Drink Water. Hydration is key. A normal worker in the course of the day can produce 2-3 gallons of sweat. Replenish this loss of water and do not allow “thirst” to be your signal to drink.
  3. Rest Areas. Provide cool rest areas to decrease the stress of your workers.  This rest area should be as close to the work area as possible.
  4. Rest area. Rather than be exposed to heat for extended periods of time during the course of a job, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work-rest cycles. Work-rest cycles give the body an opportunity to get rid of excess heat, slow down the production of internal body heat, and provide greater blood flow to the skin.

Above are the most common safety issues that are experienced on job sites that deal with extreme heat. By understanding the signs and symptoms of each and understanding how to treat, you will have the ability to save a life or prevent an incident from occurring.