Overheated? Tips on Keeping Your Cool and Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

Overheated carUnless your fair is lucky enough to be near the coast, chances are it’s already very, very warm where you are. Add the fact that there is always work that needs to be done around your fairgrounds before, during and after fair, as well as in between summer interim events, and you have the ideal setting for heat-related illnesses.

Be Cool, Work Smart! To help reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses, everyone from office staff to maintenance crews to ticket takers in non-air conditioned ticket booths needs to be aware of the conditions that can bring about heat exhaustion and heat stroke. They also need to know what symptoms to look for, and what to do when they or someone nearby is experiencing these symptoms.
Did you know that a  relative humidity of 60% or more hampers sweat evaporation and challenges your body’s ability to adequately cool itself? Or that  temperatures don’t even have to be in the 100s to be potentially dangerous to your health?

People are at a greater risk of heat illness if they:

  • are dehydrated (dehydration is your worst enemy!)
  • aren’t acclimated to working in the heat
  • are obese, in poor health or are older
  • have previously experienced a heat-related illness
  • are on a low-salt diet
  • take medications or over-the-counter drugs
  • use alcohol

Prevention Takes Pre-Planning:
To help prevent overheating, health experts recommend wearing loose-fitting lightweight clothing and a large-brimmed hat, and staying hydrated. (Don’t forget the sunscreen!)

To stay hydrated, choose water or sports beverages over sodas and other drinks containing caffeine or lots of sugar. Avoid alcohol altogether as the more you drink, the more dehydrated you will become. If you anticipate working outdoors, start drinking water/sports drinks two to three hours beforehand (or even the day before if you are extremely susceptible). Continue to drink seven to 10 ounces of water every half hour during outdoor activity and follow up with an additional eight ounces of water within a half hour of finishing your activity. (If you are on a fluid-restricted diet or have a problem with fluid retention, please check with your doctor before increasing your fluid intake.)

Symptoms to Watch For:
Heat exhaustion –  Although not as serious as heat stroke, heat exhaustion still isn’t something to take lightly. It can develop into heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs.

Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include chills, unsteady walking, nausea or vomiting, confusion, dizziness, fainting, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps,  heavy sweating or no sweating, pale skin and a rapid heartbeat.  Get medical help if there is vomiting, if symptoms last longer than 15 minutes or if symptoms get worse over time.

If you or a colleague experiences any of these symptoms, move immediately to a cool, shady spot or even better, an air-conditioned area indoors. Drink cool water or sports drinks; remove any tight or unnecessary clothing; drench clothing worn in cool water; take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath; use fans or ice packs (under arms and on groin). After recovering from a bout of heat exhaustion you may be more sensitive to high temperatures so it’s a good idea to avoid working outdoors or participating  in heavy outdoor activity for about a week.

Signs of heat stroke include a body temperature of 103 F or higher; loss of consciousness; coma; hot, red, dry or damp skin; dizziness; a sudden headache; loss of coordination; blurry vision; confusion; vomiting; or seizures. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency – call 911 and immediately m ove the worker to a shaded or air-conditioned area. While waiting for medics to arrive, help lower the person’s temperature with fanning, by soaking clothing with cool water and by applying cool compresses. Do not provide anything to drink.

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms and muscle pain. Anyone experiencing heat cramps should  take an immediate break in the shade and drink cool water or a sports beverage. Resume work only after the cramps have gone away. Get medical help if cramps last longer than an hour, if the person is on a low-salt diet or if the person has heart problems.

Rule of thumb: If you or a co-worker experiences any of these symptoms  or if you simply begin feeling ill, stop working, tell someone and take a break in a shady, cool area.

Members of CFSA’s Workers’ Compensation Pool Program are encouraged to talk to their Risk Control specialists about on-site training or for help developing a written heat-illness prevention program.

Download a free heat safety tool to your phone from the OSHA website! The app, available for Android and iPhone cell phones, and in English and Spanish (set the phone language to Spanish) enables the user to calculate the heat index for their worksite and to determine the risk level to outdoor workers. Visit:  https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html

Questions? Please contact your fair’s Risk Control specialist or Tom Amberson, CFSA’s Risk Department manager, at 916/ 263-6180 or  tamberson@cfsa.org.