Take Precautions to Avoid Heat-Related Illness this Summer

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports outdoor workers and individuals over the age of 65 are at high risk for heat-related illness. Physical exertion during hot weather, combined with dehydration can lead to severe health complications.

There are several conditions related to heat stress. They range from heat exhaustion, which can cause heavy sweating, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps or slightly elevated body temperature, to heat stroke, a serious heat-related disorder that can cause hallucinations, chills, confusion and elevated body temperature.

In addition, some people may experience heat rash, a localized skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. Fainting from the heat is called heat syncope. This can occur after standing for long periods in the heat or suddenly rising from a seated or lying position.

Sometimes, health professionals recommend people avoid working outdoors during the hottest period of the day. Unfortunately, that advice doesn’t always work for farmers who have little choice but to make hay while the sun shines.

Take these 3 precautions to avoid a heat-related illness this summer:

  1. Wear the appropriate clothing.

    First, start your day by wearing light colored, loose-fitting breathable clothing. Cotton is best because synthetic fabrics like polyester do not breathe well. Long sleeves have the added benefit of protecting your skin from sun exposure. If you’re working in full sun, a hat with a full brim will not only reduce the sun exposure to your ears and neck, the shade provided by the brim may help you feel cooler.

  2. Build up to heavy work during the summer’s hottest days.

    Doing work that is physically intensive on the first hot day of the year could make you more susceptible to heat stress. If you know it is going to be a hot week, build up your work load slowly. This process of acclimatization will help you work safely on the hottest days.

  3. Drink lots of water!

    Drink before you feel thirsty, about a cup of water every 15-20 minutes. There are 2 ½ cups of water in a standard 20-ounce bottle, so you should be drinking slightly more than that per hour. That may seem like a lot of water, but heavy sweating during our humid summers can quickly lead to dehydration. On average, a person sweats between 27 and 47 ounces, about 4 to 6 cups, of fluid during heavy physical exertion. It’s worth it to take regular breaks to consume all that water, preferably in the shade.

On some farms, such as specialty fruit and vegetable operations, it makes sense to avoid the heat of mid-day, such as when harvesting. Both vegetables and workers are stressed when harvest occurs during the hottest periods. In other cases, like making hay and managing livestock, the work goes on all day long, regardless of the weather. In these cases, take breaks, drink water and wear appropriate clothing to minimize your chances of heat stress.

Source: Brandi Janssen, Ph.D., | Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health | University of Iowa.