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Protect Against Heat Illness

August 2 2005
Safety and Health

The heat wave that has blistered the United States over the past two weeks reminds us to remind you to take necessary precautions.

Of course, construction is outdoor work, generally with demanding production goals. Even on the hottest days, the work must go on. Nevertheless, when high temperature combines with high humidity, a dangerous, potentially lethal situation takes shape. Laborers and employers alike should consider possible precautions.

In some situations, it may be possible to schedule more strenuous work early in the day or ensure more frequent breaks to minimize the hazard. Most importantly, everyone on the worksite must have access to an adequate and steady supply of water.

Our bodies cool themselves through perspiration. Heat is removed from the body as liquids move to the surface of the skin; evaporation removes the perspiration so that more liquid can escape. When the humidity is high, evaporation is more difficult, and the cooling process slows. The danger of heat exhaustion and heat stroke increases.

The key to successful body cooling is the steady infusion of water. If you body runs out, it has no way to keep cooling.

The first stage of danger is heat exhaustion. The characteristics are heavy sweating; slightly elevated body temperature; pale, clammy skin; headache, nausea or vomiting; and unusual weakness, dizziness or fainting.

The remedy is to get out of the sun and cool down. A victim should lie down and loosen clothing for ventilation; drink sips of cool water; sponge the forehead and body with cool water; check body temperature and seek medical help if it is over 102 degrees. If conditions persist beyond an hour, medical help should be sought regardless of body temperature. If untreated, heat exhaustion can turn rapidly to heat stroke.

Protect Yourself

  • Drink water every half hour, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Wear light-colored, cotton clothing.
  • Know if your prescription medications reduce your tolerance for heat or sunlight.
  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature (for instance, air out a hot car before entering).
  • Be extra careful for the first two weeks if you move to a hotter region

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