In a typical year 658 Americans die from heat-related causes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This summer extreme heat in the Southwest has left one man dead from heat stroke and dozens of people hospitalized due to heat-related illnesses. Researchers at Columbia University predict an increase in the number of heat waves over the next few years, suggesting a growing need for those who work or play outside to learn how to recognize and avoid heat-related illnesses.
Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable in extreme heat. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are continuing their Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, a joint project that began in 2011. The campaign aims to educate outdoor workers and their employers about ways to prevent heat-related illnesses. OSHA’s Web site now includes educational resources and training information. The leading prevention techniques include drinking water every 15 minutes regardless of thirst, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, taking regular breaks in the shade and giving new employees a lighter workload to acclimate them to working in hot temperatures.
OSHA also encourages outdoor workers to learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. People are often unaware that their exposure to heat is harmful until they need medical assistance. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. If ignored, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which requires immediate medical attention. Indicators of heat stroke include confusion, fainting, seizures and dry, red skin.
OSHA has developed a free smartphone app called Heat Safety Tool that indicates the risk of heat exhaustion and provides recommended precautions based on the temperature and humidity in a given location. The app is available in English and Spanish for iPhone and Android. It can be downloaded free of charge via OSHA’s Web site or iTunes.