Working outside? Understand the signs of heat stress

It's important for outdoor workers to understand heat stress, the dangers associated, and what they can do if they suffer from a heat-related work illness.

Just a short while ago, the southern areas of the country experienced colder than usual temperatures. Now, summer is in full bloom and temperatures are beginning to reach dangerous levels. Many employees who work outdoors are often subject to heat illness, or heat stress.

It's important for workers to understand the levels of heat stress, the signs and symptoms, and what they can do if they suffer from a heat-related work illness.

Understanding heat stress

Heat stress is essentially a classification of conditions that occur as a result of the human body's exposure to extreme heat. Outdoor workers are often the most susceptible-particularly during the summer season. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat rash, and heat syncope are four different types of heat stress conditions and each can cause a wide-range of symptoms.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs when an individual's body temperature gets too high too quickly because of the body's inability to cool down via traditional sweat mechanisms. Those suffering from heat stroke often experience severe sweating, hallucinations, slurred speech, and confusion, among other symptoms.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is another type of heat stress disorder. Heat exhaustion occurs when an individual emits too much sweat, thereby altering the body's water-salt concentration. Extreme fatigue, cramps, and nausea are among the list of symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Heat rash

Heat rash can also occur from extreme heat exposure. Heat rash is a heat stress disorder that manifests from excessive sweating. Pimples or blisters often form on an individual's neck, chest, and groin area.

Heat syncope

Heat syncope typically occurs in severely dehydrated individuals. Many experience severe dizziness and often faint. The condition can also occur if people are standing too long. Alternately, those who have been sitting too long may also experience syncope. Sitting or lying down, then suddenly rising, can cause fainting and dizziness.

Dangers of heat stress

Unfortunately, despite the seemingly minor symptoms associated with heat stress, all of the above conditions can be life-threatening if proper treatment is not administered in time. Ignoring signs of any of the above can and have caused permanent brain damage and even death.

Employees who take certain medications, have high blood pressure, or are age 65 and older should exhibit extra caution while working in high temperature areas because they are more susceptible to heat stress conditions.

Workers' compensation

Fortunately, employees who suffer heat related injuries while working are entitled to medical attention under workers' compensation laws. Other benefits may also be available. Speaking with a workers' compensation attorney to discuss the law in more detail is advised.

Keywords: outdoor workers, heat illnesses, heat stress, workers' compensation