3Whether your employees are outdoors -- on the job or at play this summer -- or working indoors in a hot environment, they need to know how to cope with hot and humid conditions that can pose serious dangers to their health that the heat brings.

The human "cooling system" uses perspiration and blood vessels to regulate body temperature. However, when someone is working hard in the heat, especially when it's also humid, this system can break down, raising the person's temperature and heart rate. Although people who are past middle age or have health problems are especially vulnerable, the young and healthy can also suffer from heat-related conditions.

Overheating also affects the brain. A temperature hike as little as 2 degrees can impair mental functioning, which makes heat an underlying cause of job accidents, as diminished ability can lead workers to overlook hazards and make mistakes.

In order of seriousness, heat hazards -- and their remedies -- include:

  • Heat rash -- Can be irritating: Take a shower and use a little talcum powder.
  • Heat stress -- Symptoms include thirst, vision problems and/or feeling woozy or tired: Drink a cool, non-alcoholic beverage in a shady place.
  • Heat cramp -- Involves pain from twitching muscles caused by losing salt from perspiration: Get into the shade and take cool fluids.
  • Heat exhaustion -- Look for heavy perspiration, fatigue, queasy stomach, and chilly, clammy skin: Put the person in the shade, with their feet slightly elevated, provide a cooling beverage (unless the victim is nauseated), and be prepared to seek medical assistance.
  • Heatstroke -- Can be a fatal condition, characterized by a lack of sweating, a temperature elevated by up to five degrees, hot skin, mental confusion, and loss of coordination: Call paramedics immediately -- and then get the victim to a shaded spot and keep him or her cooling down with cold water sponges or ice packs until help arrives.

To help keep your workers protected from the heat, we'd recommend that you advise them to: (1) Wear sunglasses for protection against exposure to UV rays; (2) Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more to minimize the risk of cancer or sunburn: (3) Keep hydrated with plenty of cool -- not cold -- water and beverages free of alcohol or caffeine; (4) Minimize exposure to the sun by going indoors or staying in the shade during the heat of the day; and (5) Eat light meals with small servings of fruits and vegetables (which are rich in fluids).

For valuable information on dealing with heat-related issues, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web page, Heat: A Major Killer.

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