When it’s hot, we complain. We crank up the air conditioning. We go to the beach or pool or run through sprinklers. But for those of us who work outside all day, the heat is more than an inconvenience. It can be a dangerous thing if you are not careful. The risk of heat-related illnesses due to heat stress should not be taken lightly. What are these illnesses, you ask?
First of all, heat stress is when the body is unable to perform its natural cooling process, resulting in a failure to regulate body temperature. This can result in fatigue, dizziness, cramps, and heat rash among other symptoms. If these symptoms are not addressed, it can escalate to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses an excess of water and salt due to heavy sweating. The symptoms are flu-like and if untreated, can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke can also occur suddenly, without any heat exhaustion symptoms. Heat stroke is the most serious illness due to heat stress. The body’s temperature will quickly rise, sometimes up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit within 10-15 minutes, along with the body’s sweating mechanism failing. This can be fatal or cause a permanent disability if not attended to right away.
So how do you avoid these heat-related illnesses? Well, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Heath Administration) both recommend the below ways to avoid heat stress:
- Train and Be Aware
Would you know if you or someone around you started to experience heat stress symptoms? And if so, what would you do? It is important to be aware and to train others to avoid heat stress. Below are the symptoms and plans of action against heat stress provided by OSHA:
Checking the weather for the heat index, humidity, and amount of sun exposure is essential to preparing yourself for the heat to avoid these symptoms. Luckily, OSHA and NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) have a free heat safety app for smart phones and tablets to help with heat stress prevention.
The human body is amazing in its abilities to adapt. We can become accustomed to drastic weather change; however, it does take some time. Acclimating means to gradually increase your exposure to the heat over a period of time. This can be achieved between 1-2 weeks with an increase of 20% work in the heat every day until reaching maximum capabilities. This allows your body to adapt slowly and increases sweating efficiency. In the beginning of acclimating, frequent breaks out of the heat are recommended and shorter work days. Once the process of acclimatization is complete, the heat does not come as a big shock to the body and heat stress is less likely.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Can we say it enough? Drinking enough water along with sports drinks with balanced electrolytes is crucial to avoiding heat stress. The best measure to go by is to drink 8 ounces (1 cup) of water for every 15-20 minutes in the heat, but you should not drink over 48 ounces (6 cups) per hour. Drinks with high levels of caffeine and sugar will aid in dehydration, so avoid these as much as possible. And of course, be sure to drink water as soon as you are thirsty.
Another way to assist in keeping heat stress away? Regular breaks in the shade. This will allow your body get rid of excess heat. Rest breaks should be modified depending on the temperature, humidity, sun exposure, air movement, and the type of work. When any discomfort or beginning signs of heat stress are apparent, be sure to rest right away.
- Wear Comfortable Protective Clothing
Comfort plays a large role in the proper wear and use of PPE. Did you know that 89% of workers have observed fellow workers failing to wear personal protective equipment because of discomfort? Comfortable garments provide the following benefits:
- Comfort increases compliance by reducing the wearer’s need to roll up sleeves, unbutton collars, and untuck shirts due to overheating. Wouldn’t you be more likely to wear PPE that is comfortable?
- Comfort reduces distraction and allows a worker to focus on their job. This results in less mistakes and a safer work environment.
- Comfort reduces the risk of heat stress. Comfortable garments do not impair the body’s natural cooling process.
So what makes up a comfortable garment? According to end user research, the below characteristics are the foundation for comfort:
- Moisture Wicking
A garment that wicks away sweat, doesn’t weight you down, and allows air flow will keep you compliant and comfortable in the heat. Your safety is important, so remember to always wear your FR garments properly and avoid heat stress.
Learn more about how DRIFIRE technology can keep you cool and comfortable here.
Check out our lightweight, breathable FR garments with moisture management: