With the approach of warmer weather, the opportunity for dehydration leading to heat disorders in construction workers also increases. Below are symptoms of some of the most common heat disorders to be aware of the temperatures climb.
Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder and occurs when the body's temperature regulation fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. It is a medical emergency that can result in death. Be aware of the signs:
- irrational behavior
- loss of consciousness
- a lack of sweating
- hot, dry skin
- abnormally high body temperature
If a worker shows signs of possible heat stroke, professional medical treatment should be obtained immediately. Until professional medical treatment is available, the worker should be placed in a shady, cool area and the outer clothing should be removed. Douse the worker with cool water and circulate air to improve evaporative cooling. Provide the worker fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible.
Heat Exhaustion, another common heat disorder, is only partly due to exhaustion; it is a result of the combination of excessive heat and dehydration. Signs and symptoms include:
Fainting or heat collapse is often associated with heat exhaustion. Workers suffering from heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot environment and given fluid replacement. They should also be encouraged to get adequate
rest, and when possible, ice packs should be applied.
Heat Cramps are usually caused by performing hard physical labor in a hot environment.
Heat cramps have been attributed to an electrolyte imbalance caused by sweating and are normally caused by the lack of water replenishment. It is imperative that workers in hot environments drink water every 15 to 20 minutes and also drink carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks) to help minimize physiological disturbances during recovery.
To avoid a heat disorder while performing construction activities, stay hydrated and be alert to the signs of a problem.
To Minimize Heat-Related Illness
- Acclimatize workers
- Have water available to replenish lost fluids
- Provide cooler, recovery areas should an illness occur
- Reschedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day
- Monitor workers
Personal Protective Equipment Plays a Role Too
Reflective clothing, worn as loosely as possible, can minimize heat stress hazards. Wetted clothing, such as terry cloth coveralls or two-piece, whole-body cotton suits are another simple and inexpensive personal cooling technique. It is effective when reflective or other impermeable protective clothing is worn.
Manufacturers even offer a range of water-cooled garments, such as a hood (which cools only the head) to vests and long johns (partial or complete body cooling). Use of this equipment requires a battery-driven circulating pump, liquid-ice coolant, and a container.