Elevated heat and humidity, in addition to strenuous work, can place an abnormal stress on the body. When the body temperature rises even a few degrees above normal (which is about 98.6°F), it will experience muscle cramps, become weak, disoriented, and dangerously ill unless the body cools down. Body core temperature should not exceed 100.4°F and the average heart rate over a day should not exceed 110 beats per minute. If the body temperature rises above 105°F, the heat stress condition can be fatal. There is also a higher frequency of accidents in hot environments.
Persons working in hot environments - steam tunnels, mechanical rooms, power plants, outside during the summer, kitchens, laundries, and the like - must take special precautions against heat stress. The following guidelines can help you keep cool in the heat and avoid the dangerous consequences:
- Adapt To The Heat by gradually getting used to the hot environment over a one-week period of time. Each day, the workload can be increased slightly until you are able to operate at "full steam".
- Drink Water Frequently to replace the loss of body water during the sweating process. Ideally, you should drink at least 8 ounces of water every 20-30 minutes while working in the hot environment. Sweating is one of the ways your body cools itself down.
- Wear Personal Protective Equipment for hot environments which ranges from ordinary work clothes made from "breathable" fabrics to specially designed suits cooled by air, ice or portable air conditioners. "Non-breathable" fabrics may add to the heat stress factors.
- Use Engineering Controls such as fans, ventilators, exhaust systems, and air-coolant or conditioning systems to help reduce work site temperatures to more adaptable levels. Other controls such as heat shields and insulating heat-producing equipment (thermal system insulation) will also help lower the environmental temperature.
- Know The Signs, Symptoms and Treatment of heat stress (heat cramps, heat exhaustion & heat stroke) that affects a person's physiological and behavioral condition. After heat stress is identified, use of proper first-aid techniques and seeking medical attention will minimize the dangerous effects. EHS offers CPR/First-Aid training which covers heat stress signs, symptoms and treatment.
Please keep your cool, heat stress is dangerous but very preventable. EHS can review the workplace risk factors - such as a hot environment, high work demands, and protective clothing requirements - to make recommendations that minimize risk. Contact the EHS Industrial Hygienist at (573) 882-7018 for additional information or workplace risk factor review.