Heat Related Illnesses Can be Fatal – Do Your Employees Know What to do?

Hot summer sun

Heat related deaths are preventable, yet heat related fatalities occur every year. Heat related illnesses can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage, and even death. In fact, heat related illnesses kill more people than hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and lightning combined – wow! 1

If your employees work outside or are exposed to extreme heat during the summer (such as warehouse workers, mechanics in shops, etc.), they could be at risk for heat related illnesses. This article will help equip you and your employees with the knowledge you need to prevent, identify, and treat heat related illnesses.

Note: The tips below are not a substitute for actual medical care, but can help you and your employees recognize and respond to warning signs of heat related illnesses, so you know when to call for help.

What are heat related illnesses and who is most at risk?

Heat related illnesses include heatstroke (the most severe), heat exhaustion, and heat cramps. Those most at risk include:

  • Elderly people
  • People who work outdoors
  • Individuals with heart, circulatory, or other long-term illnesses
  • Individuals taking medications that alter sweat production or increase sensitivity to sunlight
  • Alcoholics and drug abusers 2

What is a heatstroke?

Heatstroke can occur when the ability to sweat fails and body temperature rises quickly. The quick rise in temperature essentially cooks the brain and vital organs in a matter of minutes. Heatstroke is often fatal. Those who survive usually have permanent damage to their organs. 2

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Extremely hot skin
  • Altered mental state ranging from slight confusion to a coma
  • Seizures 2

What do you do?

  • Move the person into a half-sitting position in the shade
  • Call 911
  • If it is not very humid, spray the person with water and fan them very quickly. If it is very humid, apply ice to the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Do not give them aspirin or acetaminophen
  • Do not give them anything to drink 2

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses excessive amounts of salt and water. People who work outdoors are particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion. 2

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Severe thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Headache and dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Profuse sweating and rapid pulse
  • Clammy or pale skin
  • Slightly elevated body temperature 2

What do you do?

  • Move the person to a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Give them water or something cool to drink (non-alcoholic)
  • Apply wet towels to their skin or have them take a cool shower 2

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are muscle spasms that are caused by a decrease in the level of salt in the body. These spasms affect the legs or abdominal muscles, usually after physical activity. Anyone who experiences these spasm should not return to work or physical activity for a few hours. 2

What do you do?

  • What do you do?
  • Drink a lot of liquid and avoid alcohol
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing and a hat to protect yourself from the sun
  • Replenish your salt loss by drinking fruit juice or sports drinks
  • Avoid spending time outside between 11 AM and 3 PM, which is the hottest time of the day
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Pace yourself when performing physical activity outside 2

Want to learn more about heat related illnesses and how to identify, prevent, and treat them? Check out the CDC’s Extreme Heat guide.

Beat the heat; Extreme heat.

1 Extreme heat prevention guide
2 Heat illnesses can be fatal; Would you know what to do?

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