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The thermal (heat or cold) stress of any given working situation is the combination of all of those factors which result in heat gains or losses relative to the body or which prevent the body's temperature regulating mechanisms from working efficiently.
People may suffer from heat stress during hot, humid conditions. To prevent heat stress, employees should limit strenuous physical activity during the hottest portion of the day, wear a brimmed hat when in the sun, take frequent breaks, and drink plenty of fluids.
Heat stress occurs in two forms: heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion is usually caused by strenuous physical activity and hot, humid conditions. Because heat exhaustion is the body's response to insufficient water and salt, it should be treated as quickly as possible.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include the following:
- Exhaustion and restlessness
- Cold, clammy, moist skin
- Pale face
- Cramps in abdomen and lower limbs
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Falling body temperature
Take the following steps to administer first aid for heat exhaustion:
- Have the victim lie down in a cool or shaded place.
- If the victim is conscious, have the victim slowly sip cool water, not cold water. If the victim is unconscious or is conscious but does not improve, seek medical aid as soon as possible.
- If the victim is sweating profusely, have the victim sip cool water that contains one teaspoon of table salt per pint of water.
Heat stroke is usually caused by exposure to extreme heat and humidity and/or a feverish illness. Heat stoke occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature by sweating. Heat stroke is extremely dangerous and may be fatal if not treated immediately.
The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include the following:
- Hot, dry skin
- High temperature
- Strong pulse
- Noisy breathing
Immediately take the following steps to administer first aid for heat stroke:
- If possible, move the victim to a cool place.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Remove the victim's clothing.
- If the victim is conscious, place the victim in a half-sitting position and support the head and shoulders. If unconscious, place the victim on the side with the head facing sideways.
- Fan the victim and sponge the body with cool water.
When your body temperature drops even a few degrees below normal (which is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), you can begin to shiver uncontrollably, become weak, drowsy, disorientated, unconscious, even fatally ill. This loss of body heat is known as "cold stress" or hypothermia. It is important that persons who work outdoors or in cold indoor environments (e.g. coal storage bunker, warehouses, etc.) learn about how to protect against hypothermia. The following guidelines can help you keep your body warm and avoid the dangerous consequences of hypothermia:
- Dress in Layers
Outdoors, indoors, in mild weather or in cold, it pays to dress in layers. Layering your clothes allows you to adjust what you're wearing to suit the temperature conditions. In cold weather, wear cotton, polypropylene, or lightweight wool next to the skin, and wool layers over your undergarments. In warm weather, stick to loose fitting, cotton clothing. For outdoor activities, choose outer garments made of waterproof, wind resistant fabrics such as nylon. And, since a great deal of body heat is lost through the head, always wear a hat for added protection.
- Keep Dry
Water chills your body far more rapidly than air or wind. Even in the heat of the summer, falling into a 40-degree lake can be fatal in a matter of minutes. Always take along a dry set of clothing whenever you are working outdoors. Wear waterproof boots in damp or snowy weather, and always pack rain gear.
- Take a Companion
The effects of hypothermia can be gradual and often go unnoticed until it's too late. If you know you'll be outdoors for an extended period of time, take along a companion. (At the very least, let someone know where you'll be and at what time you expect to return.) Ask your companion to check you frequently for overexposure to the cold—do the same for your companion. Check for shivering, slurred speech, mental confusion, drowsiness, and weakness. If either of you shows any of the above signs, get indoors as soon as possible and warm up.
- Warmth and Understanding
The key ingredients to preventing loss of body heat are staying warm, and understanding what you can do to protect against conditions that can cause hypothermia. Hypothermia can be fatal, but it can be prevented.