Excerpted from the July/August issue of The Landscape Professional magazine
Rolling into the dog days of summer, heat will be a constant factor your crews out in the field will face. When the human body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, heat illnesses can occur and may result in death. Workers can become overheated due to the internal heat generated by physical labor and external heat in the environment. Other risk factors include lack of acclimatization and wearing clothing that holds in body heat.
Avoiding Heat-Related Illnesses
Heat-related illnesses are preventable and it’s important to have a program in place to help mitigate the chance of it occurring, along with training your crews to know how to spot and treat a heat-related illness.
The main elements of a heat stress program include:
- Identifying heat-related hazards
- Providing water, rest and shade
- Acclimatizing workers
- Modifying work schedules to reduce workers’ exposure to heat
- Training employees on the symptoms and treatment of heat-related illnesses
- Monitoring heat-illness symptoms
- Having an emergency plan and response
For new employees who have not spent time working in hot environments or being physically active, they will need to acclimatize to the heat. Encourage these workers to stay hydrated, work shorter shifts and take frequent breaks.
During a rapid change to excessively hot weather even experienced workers should begin on the first day of work in excessive heat with 50 percent of the normal workload and time spent in the hot environment, 60 percent on the second day, 80 percent on the third day, and 100 percent on the fourth day.
Spotting the Different Forms of Heat-Related Illnesses
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. The symptoms of heat stroke can include:
- Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Hot dry skin or profuse sweating
- Body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit
If a co-worker shows possible signs of heat stroke, seek medical help immediately and call 911. Move the co-worker to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing. Cool the victim with cold water or an ice bath, if possible. Circulate air around the individual to speed cooling and place cold, wet cloths on the head, neck, armpits and groin.
Heat exhaustion is the second-most severe heat-related illness and is often a result from excessive sweating. The symptoms for heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Body temperature greater than100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
Co-workers suffering from heat exhaustion should be moved to a cool location and remove unnecessary clothing such as shoes and socks. Cool the worker with cold, wet cloths and have them frequently sip cool water. Workers with signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment. Make sure that someone stays with the worker until help arrives. If symptoms worsen, call 911 and get help immediately.
Heat cramps are muscle pains caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Workers with heat cramps should drink water and have a snack or drink sports drinks every 15 to 20 minutes. Seek medical attention if the worker has heart problems, is on a low-sodium diet or if the cramps do not subside within an hour.
A heat rash can be caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid work environment. The rash area should be kept dry. Powder may be applied to increase comfort. Oils and creams should not be used to treat a heat rash.
For more information on heat illness, check out the Heat Illness Prevention campaign.