In the 1987 movie classic Good Morning Vietnam a comic radio announcer, played by Robin Williams, tells troops, “The weather out there today is hot and crappy with continued hot and crappy in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a crappy weather front coming down from the north. Basically, it's hotter than a snake's butt in a wagon rut.”
Consuming small amounts of water
regularly during the hot summer season
is one of the most effective ways to
combat heat stress.
A PCL project team stays shaded and hydrated
during a hot summer day.
That forecast is typical of the summer weather in many of the locations where PCL operates across North America. Hot weather has settled in for the season. With 100-plus degree temperatures and high humidity, meteorologists predict increased heat before any relief in the fall—even in some northern locations. Anyone who spends time in the summer heat needs to take utmost care to avoid a variety of heat-stress conditions that result from overexposure or overexertion.
Knowing the symptoms of heat-stress conditions is vital for everyone from parents cheering on their kids at sports events to workers and their supervisors on construction projects. Why? Prompt treatment can save a life!
Three Heat Stress Situations to Watch For
- Heat Cramps—are caused by dehydration and loss of electrolytes such as sodium. Sweat extracts water and salt out of the body. You usually see heat cramps in those who are working in hot environments. Heat cramps usually show up in the extremities—especially legs and abdomen. This is nature’s way of telling you to stop exercising or working when it’s that hot out. Cramps usually occur after heavy sweating and often begin at the end of a work shift. While not a life-threatening situation, heat cramps may be an initial onset of more severe physical conditions.
- Heat Exhaustion—is indicated by profuse sweating, weakness, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, and headache; heat exhaustion must be treated immediately. The skin is cool and sometimes pale and clammy with sweat. Body temperature is normal or subnormal. Nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness may occur, and the individual should be immediately removed from the heat and rehydrated.
- Heat Stroke—is a severe and sometimes fatal emergency situation. Sweating diminishes or is completely absent. The skin is hot, dry, and flushed. Body temperature increases, and if not controlled or treated, can lead to delirium, convulsions, coma, and even death. Medical care is urgently needed and an ambulance must be called immediately.
Precautions to Prevent Heat Stresses
- Plan ahead and always have water readily available. Low-sodium, non-carbonated, nonalcoholic, and non-caffeinated beverages also help prevent heat stress. Workers should drink small amounts of water frequently—one cup every 20 minutes is ideal. Avoid higher-sodium drinks, such as sports drinks, as they could be dangerous for older workers with heart conditions.
- Relocate work away from heat sources and direct sunlight, or provide shade shelters to reduce the heat exposure.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing where possible. Clothing material should be made of sweat-wicking fabrics.
By taking these few simple precautions, you can keep yourself and family members, and all outdoor workers, healthy in the heat. But always remember, if you have any of the symptoms above, get in the shade, drink water, and get help immediately.