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eSafety’s Heat-Related Illness series was developed to create a better understanding of the different types of heat-related illnesses. These illnesses are prevalent in the workplace year-round, and can affect anyone working both indoors and outdoors where there is an increase in environmental and metabolic heat resulting in heat stress. This series will cover topics that include the different types of heat-related illnesses, signs and symptoms of these illnesses, and workplace prevention methods.  

Whether you’re working outside in hot temperatures, in a building with work processes that generate heat, or performing tasks that generate a lot of metabolic heat, it’s important to recognize the risk of heat-related illness. That starts with understanding the hazards that make heat-related illnesses more likely.  

Potential hazards that can lead to heat stress include:

  • Working outdoors in extremely hot weather and/or humid conditions
  • Working near processes or machinery that radiate large amounts of heat
  • Working in contact with or near hot objects
  • Completing physically strenuous work tasks, especially in warm environments
  • Use of clothing or personal protective equipment
  • Personal risk factors

Any of these hazards, alone or combined, present an increased risk for heat-related illness.  Because heat exhaustion can very quickly lead to heat stroke, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of each illness in order to respond appropriately to keep you and your co-workers safe. 

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

If you see the following signs in a fellow employee, do not ignore symptoms, but contact your supervisor and a medical first responder immediately. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke should be treated immediately. Here are a few of the most recognizable symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the most common heat-related illness. Though it is not as dangerous as heat stroke, if left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include: 

  • Irritability
  • Heavy sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urine output
  • Headache
  • Fatigue, weakness, or tiredness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting

Dehydration is the most critical symptom of heat exhaustion, as it can lead to heat stroke, which is the most serious heat-related illness. 

What to Do if You Observe Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Yourself or Others

If you notice these symptoms of heat exhaustion in yourself or someone around you, here are steps you can take to resolve the heat-related illness. 

  • Move the person to a cooler place. Moving that person out of the sun and heat is the first step to help combat their heat exhaustion symptoms. 
  • Drink water. Dehydration is the top cause of any heat-related illness. As your body sweats to keep you cool, you lose water, salt, and electrolytes, which cause symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of heat exhaustion, the affected person should drink 8 ounces of water or a liquid with electrolytes every 15 to 20 minutes. Do not drink more than 48 ounces an hour, as this can cause a medical emergency when the concentration of salt in the blood becomes too low.
  • Loosen clothing. Tight or restrictive clothing can exacerbate symptoms of heat-related illnesses. Loosen clothing so sweat can evaporate and so the body can better regulate its temperature. Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
  • Apply cool cloths, or take a cool bath or shower. If possible, take a cool shower or bath to help lower your temperature. If you or the affected person is far from a shower or bath, have the person lie down. Applying cool cloths, compresses, or ice packs under the arms, on the neck, ankles, groin, and behind the knees can help rapidly cool the body. 
  • Call a medical care provider. If you or the other person’s symptoms get worse, if there is vomiting, or if the symptoms last for more than an hour, seek immediate medical attention.  

Left untreated, heat exhaustion can quickly escalate to heat stroke. If you notice any symptoms of heat exhaustion, or if someone’s heat exhaustion symptoms do not resolve after following the remedies above, medical attention is paramount. As we’ll look into next, heat stroke is a serious illness, a medical emergency that can result in death if not treated immediately. 

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related illness. Heat stroke is an illness that occurs when your body is no longer able to regulate its temperature. If not treated quickly, the body’s temperature can soar, which can cause permanent brain damage and even death. It’s important to know that there are two different types of heat stroke, classic and exertional. 

Symptoms of Classic Heat Stroke

  • Lack of sweating. This is the biggest distinction between classic and exertional heat stroke. If you stop sweating, heat stroke is imminent. 
  • High body temperature
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Convulsions or seizures

Symptoms of Exertional Heat Stroke

  • Heavy sweating. It’s important to know that just because you’re still sweating, it doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing heat stroke. Exertional heat stroke, which usually occurs from a combination of heat exposure and heavy physical exertion, happens even while you continue to sweat. 
  • High body temperature
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Convulsions or seizures

What to Do If You Observe Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Yourself or Others

Heat stroke is a dangerous health concern and a medical emergency. If you notice symptoms of either type of heat stroke, call 911 right away. If in the workplace, activate your company’s procedure for obtaining emergency medical treatment, and notify your supervisor. While you wait for medical care providers to arrive:

  • Move the person to a shaded, cooler place. 
  • Remove or loosen as much of the affected person’s clothing as possible.
  • Provide cool drinking water. 
  • Attempt to cool the person quickly with a cool water or ice bath. If a bath or shower is not available, apply cool cloths or compresses directly to the person’s head, neck, groin, ankles, underarms, and behind the knees. 

Heat stroke is a sign that your body is unable to regulate your body temperature. If you notice any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in yourself or a fellow employee, stop work immediately, and seek a cooler space and notify your supervisor for medical attention.

If your employees are working in a warm environment, helping them understand information about what heat-related illnesses are and how they can be prevented is important. eSafety’s course on  Heat-Related Illness Awareness covers everything from basic precautions and symptoms of heat-related illnesses to the importance of appropriate PPE for hot work conditions. For more information about our courses contact our team online or request a free quote today!