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Heat-related stress is a potential danger to anyone working outdoors. From construction to landscaping, heat stress can be a matter of life and death, and it is entirely preventable. Heat stress rarely affects just one person. A person with heat stress exercises impaired judgment, putting other workers at risk. Furthermore, a death amongst the crew can lower morale and productivity. Knowing the basics of heat safety while working outside can save lives and prevent injury.
There are two types of heat-related stress that can cause injury or death. The first is heat exhaustion. Its symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and a fast, weak pulse. Heat exhaustion often precedes the other type of heat-related illness: heat stroke. Whereas heat exhaustion can cause workers to exercise impaired judgment and accidentally injure themselves or others, heat stroke affects the body directly, affecting major organs and potentially leading to death. A person with heatstroke can often reach a body temperature of 106 F or above. Symptoms include dry skin, rapid, strong pulse and dizziness.
It’s important to know what to look for in case someone you know suffers from heat exhaustion. If a person seems out of sorts, if the color of their skin is off, or if they are sweating profusely or out of breath, that person may be suffering from a heat related illness. If a coworker does appear to be suffering from heatstroke or heat exhaustion, it’s important to get the person into shade and give him or her water. Following that, call 911 and get the person to the hospital. Heatstroke comes on gradually, so the earlier you can catch it, the more likely you are to prevent injury or death.
However, it’s always best to prevent heat stress from occurring in the first place. Providing training sessions for your employees is a great way to do this. Educate your workers on the signs of a heat stroke as well as the symptoms. Train them on what to do in the event of a heatstroke – i.e. getting the affected person to shade, getting him or her hydrated, and calling 911. Finally, emphasize the importance of shade breaks and drinking plenty of water and electrolyte beverages.