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How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion
If your work takes you outside during the hottest days of summer, it’s critical to take proper precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses. Even if the reported temperature doesn't seem intense, working out in the sun often feels much hotter. Add hazy, hot and humid conditions to the mix, and even the strongest workers may succumb to the heat if they don’t follow proper safety precautions. Keep in mind that heat-related illnesses can range from uncomfortable to serious, but they are entirely preventable if you take the right steps.
The Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
There are different degrees of heat-related illness, and it goes way beyond just feeling hot and sweaty. The first stage is dehydration followed by heat exhaustion. The latter can also escalate into heat stroke, the most serious of the heat-related illnesses.
The common culprit in all of these conditions is that your body loses too much water and salt. Once that happens, symptoms can begin to develop such as feeling dizzy, nauseous, short of breath, fatigued, confused and muscle cramps. As the condition worsens, it can lead to heavy sweating, chills, vomiting, fainting and even hallucinations.
Treatment for heat exhaustion can range from getting out of the heat and taking a cool shower to getting emergency medical help for more serious symptoms. For example, if you're in danger of heat stroke, your body will actually stop sweating, trapping the heat inside. If you suspect that a person has heat stroke or serious heat exhaustion, don’t hesitate to call an ambulance.
Tips for Preventing Heat Exhaustion
The bottom line, heat exhaustion is something you want to avoid. In fact, preventing heat exhaustion is easier than you might think. Here are some tips on how to avoid heat exhaustion that everyone should follow each day:
Drink up. Prepare your body by ensuring you're properly hydrated before you go outside. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 16 to 20 ounces of fluid one to two hours before you go into the field, and then an additional six to 12 ounces for every 15 minutes you spend outside. To get in the habit of drinking regularly throughout the day, set a reminder on your watch or phone. As for what to drink, water is the best option. Setting up a station with large water jugs makes it easy to refill your bottle as needed. You can also alternate with sports drinks when you need an extra boost since those help replenish some of the electrolytes and sodium that you lose when you sweat. Other beverages like soda, coffee or sugary drinks don’t help with hydration and should generally be avoided.
Know the signs of dehydration. If your mouth is dry or you feel tired, grab that water bottle and start chugging. And keep an eye on coworkers to make sure they are drinking, too. Dehydration can worsen quickly, so try to catch it early and take steps to hydrate. If your legs or abdomen begin to cramp up or you feel dizzy or nauseous, immediately get out of the heat. When you're in a cool area, try drinking and splashing cool water on yourself, and rest up until you start feeling better.
Find a shady tree. Taking frequent breaks in the shade is important since it can be as much as 15 degrees cooler than areas without any cover. If there are no nearby trees, a pop-up tent can provide some relief. Or you can try sitting in a vehicle or a piece of farm equipment that has a roof or covering. A misting fan station can also be a big help. The best option, if available, is to spend a few minutes of your break time indoors, in an air-conditioned area.
Be flexible about work hours. Try to get in the work that requires the most physical exertion during the early morning hours before the sun is strongest. If possible, avoid extended periods of work in the sun between the hours of 12 p.m. and 3 p.m., which are considered the peak hours of sunshine. If work during that period can't be avoided, take a 5 to 10 minute break every hour. Taking note of the times that different areas of the property might be shaded, and working your day's schedule around that can also help.
Don't go full force into an all-day outdoor schedule. For those new to farm work, gradually getting used to working in the heat will help the body adapt. Start with just a brief time outdoors, and increase the amount of time in the heat by 20 percent each day.
Wear the right clothes. Besides wearing sunscreen, it's important to dress appropriately when you're going to be working outdoors. A wide-brimmed hat can help protect your scalp, face and neck. Even though it's hot, long sleeve shirts, long pants and boots are necessary to protect you from insect bites and the sun. Stick with light-colored, loose-fitting fabrics that breathe well.
Get some cool relief. Placing a cool, wet cloth or towel on the back of your neck or on top of your head, and patting down overheated skin can help keep your body temperature down. You can also try using any of the cooling towels or neck cooling bandana products found in stores. If you have access to a cold water source, re-wet cloths throughout the day.
Heat exhaustion can put agricultural workers out of commission fairly quickly, and it can even lead to serious illness. By following the tips above, you’ll not only keep cool but be more energetic and productive.