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Heat Stress – Summer Is Here

Here in Africa workers may start to face heat-related problems as August stretches into summer and the hottest months of the year.

Heat problems kill workers every year, including the very young and old, those with diseases such as diabetes that disrupt the body’s temperature control mechanism, and those working in the heat. The last group puts the issue in your hands.

Heat problems themselves come in three varieties: heat cramps, heat exhaustion (also called heat prostration or collapse,) and the real killer, heatstroke. Collectively, these conditions are known as heat stress.

For heat cramps, the best is to get out of the hot environment, stop using your large muscles, drink water, and to replace electrolytes.

For heat exhaustion, one needs to get out of the heat and take off any excessive clothing, particularly around the head and neck. Drink a liter of water (slowly, so nausea doesn’t develop), lie down with your feet up, and use a fan for cooling.” The problem should go away in 30 minutes. If not, medical attention may be needed.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Your first and biggest objective is to lower the body’s core temperature by any means available. This includes the use of cold packs on the neck, armpits, and groin, coverage with wet sheets or towels, and placement in a highly air-conditioned room. Medical help should be summoned immediately.

It’s understandable if all of this has you looking for ways to prevent these conditions rather than having to treat them. Here are 6 ways to prevent heat illness:

  1. Pre-hydrate. Before activity starts, have workers drink up to 16 ounces of fluid. Then drink 8 ounces every 20 minutes during the activity.
  2. Drink flavoured water. Plain water quenches thirst too quickly, so workers tend to not drink enough of it.
  3. Acclimate to the heat slowly, over 5 to 7 days of exposure. For new workers, institute a 20 percent increase of time in the heat for each day. Workers already used to these conditions can increase exposure slightly faster, but 4 days out of the heat means re-acclimation will be needed.
  4. Don’t wear a hat. It restricts heat loss through the head. Workers operating in direct sunlight can wear a visor.
  5. Wear loose, thin synthetic fabrics. They help the skin stay cool through evaporation. Avoid cotton as it soaks up sweat, forestalling evaporation.
  6. Wear your PPE no matter what the temperature. It can’t protect you if it’s not on you. If it’s uncomfortable, take frequent breaks.

To learn more about Heat Stress, read this excellent online document about Preventing Heat Stress at Work

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