Would it shock you to learn that between 1995 and 2007, there were 31 deaths due to heat injury in high school football programs all across the USA? Would you believe there were 2,550 injuries resulting in days away from work and 34 fatalities due to heat exposure in 2013? Between 1997 and 2006, heat related injuries increased by 134 percent. The most tragic aspect of those injuries and fatalities is that, with a little education and a little preparation, heat stress is preventable.
Heat stress is often thought to be primarily caused by exposure to sun and high temperatures, but it’s affected greatly by age, pre-activity hydration, fitness level, medications, and conditions like Sickle Cell. If you’re working or exercising out in the summer sun, the CDC has these heat stress prevention tips:
- Wear loose, light-colored clothing
- Wear a hat
- Gradually build up to heavy work
- Save the hardest work for the cool parts of the day
- Take breaks more frequently in hot weather, in the shade if possible
- Drink water (or other hydration products) every 15 minutes whether you’re thirsty or not
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated, sugary drinks while outside
The two most prominent types of heat illness are Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Sweaty Skin
- Fast heart beat
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Red, hot, dry skin
- High temperature
As we enter the summer season, it’s important to recognize these symptoms when working or playing outdoors. Depending on how strenuous the activities are, heat-related injuries can occur in temperatures that we don’t normally consider extreme. Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious and potentially deadly. If you observe a friend or coworker exhibiting these symptoms and you respond quickly and appropriately, you could save a life.
ORR Safety has created a special catalog of items designed to keep workers cool in the summer, but it’s crucial to understand that no product on the market can replace education and preparation. Make sure your company has a safety plan in place for heat-related injuries. If you observe the symptoms of heat stress in a coworker, get them to a cool, shady area immediately. Doug Casa of the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute says the most important concept is “Cool first, transport second.” He would know; his institute is named after a Minnesota Vikings player who died due to heat stroke. Additionally, make sure there is a cellular phone nearby and make sure you can describe your location to emergency dispatchers. If your company does not have an emergency plan in place, take the initiative to bring it to your supervisor. Every company would prefer to have an emergency plan in place honoring the proactive employees who helped draft it instead of one that honors the memory of an employee who lost their life to an event that was predictable and preventable.