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News May 25, 2023

Top five heat-related illnesses

As weather warms up, the risk of heat-related illnesses increases for outdoor workers.

Construction Executive lists the following five most common heat-related illnesses in construction and how to treat them.

  1. Heat rash is a skin irritation resulting from excessive sweating, especially when exposed to hot, humid conditions for prolonged periods. Employees should keep the affected areas dry and wear breathable fabrics.
  2. Heat cramps are caused by fluid or salt depletion after rigorous physical activity in the heat. Employees should replenish with salty foods and water or electrolytes.
  3. Heat syncope is a collapsing or fainting episode that occurs when the body does not acclimate to extreme heat. Inadequate fluid replacement can cause dehydration, which typically resolves after a period of rehydration and rest. Employees also should lie flat on their back and elevate their feet; seek emergency medical attention if necessary.
  4. Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke and can be the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt; it can be triggered by physical exertion and limited physical activity and could be accompanied by extreme sweating. Employers should act immediately because heat exhaustion quickly can become heat stroke. Take employees to a cool environment; treat them with ice packs and cool water/electrolyte drinks; and seek medical attention. If employees become confused or irrational, call 911.
  5. Heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition that occurs when the core body temperature reaches 104 F. Look for symptoms such as loss of consciousness, slurred speech, confusion, seizures and profuse sweating. Employers should deploy their emergency action plan for severe workplace injuries, which includes calling 911 immediately. Employees should be immersed in ice or cold water, applying towels to the head, trunk, extremities and groin. Heat stroke can lead to significant or permanent damage to vital organs or death if victims are not treated immediately.

There are steps employers can take to help ensure their workers do not experience heat-related illness, including gradually acclimating employees to extreme heat; ensuring workers drink adequate fluids, such as water and sports drinks; having employees work shorter shifts; making sure workers take frequent breaks; and offering air-conditioned areas when possible. It also is key your company has a heat response plan in place to help prevent heat-related illness and react quickly to a heat-related illness emergency.

The Occupational Safety and Heath Administration’s Heat Illness Prevention page offers resources to help you protect your workers.


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