Heat Stress Injuries

Kent McGuire – CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator

We have reached the time of year when working in extreme hot weather can create potential health hazards. Risk factors for heat illness include working long hours in high temperatures and humidity, direct sun exposure, no breeze or wind, and usually coupled with heavy physical labor. A heat stress injury occurs when the body cannot regulate its temperature. If the body is working correctly, it is self-cooled by perspiration. When the body’s temperature rises faster than it can cool its self, the core temperature begins to rise quickly and heat stress injuries result. Common heat stress injuries include: 

    1. Heat Cramps
      • Caused by dehydration.
      • Prevention- Water consumption every 15 to 20 minutes.
      • Carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement beverages help prevent a loss of sodium caused by excessive sweating.
      • Firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage will help relieve spasms. Take sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water.
    2. Heat Exhaustion
      • Headache, nausea, weakness, thirst.
      • Get out of the sun. Lie down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air-conditioned room or vehicle, if possible. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention or if little to no improvement after 30 minutes.
    3. Heat stroke
      • The body’s temperature rises to critical levels.
      • Confusion, irrational behavior, loss of consciousness, convulsions, lack of sweating, hot dry skin, and abnormally high body temperature.
      • Do not consume fluids when having a heat stroke and seek medical treatment immediately. Delaying medical treatment could result in death.

Some precautions to prevent heat stress injuries should include:

- When possible, strenuous work should be scheduled for the coolest time of day (early morning or evening).

- Dress lightly - lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.

- Take multiple short breaks in a shaded area or controlled environment, throughout the day.

- Use extreme caution when working around equipment or machines that will give off additional heat during operations.

- Provide ventilation to enclosed work locations with limited airflow, such as haymows.

-  Stay Hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after strenuous activities. Cold fluids can also help cool the body. Plan ahead! Hydrating the body should start 24 hours before strenuous activity in higher temperatures.

- Avoid foods that are high in protein because they increase metabolism, increasing body heat and water loss.

- Avoid getting too much sun and use sunscreen. Avoid scheduling tasks in direct sunlight, during the middle of the day. Sunburn makes reducing body temperature more difficult.

- Spend time in air-conditioned places, especially during periods of rest, which allow the body to recuperate.

For more information about OSU Ag Safety visit http://agsafety.osu.edu or contact Kent McGuire, OSU Agricultural Safety & Health, at mcguire.225@osu.edu or 614-292-0588.