5 Things You Need to Know About Heat Illness

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May 30, 2024
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Patrick J. Karol,

Summer is here! This time of year brings the perennial hazard we know as heat stress. Heat, humidity, and air movement (or lack of) can combine to cause various heat illnesses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 400 work-related deaths have occurred due to environmental heat exposure since 2011. No wonder heat stress questions are a hot topic (pun intended).

ANSI/ASSP A10.50 Heat Stress Management Standard was released earlier this year. CalOSHA requires companies to have a heat illness prevention plan, and federal OSHA is moving, albeit slowly, on a federal heat stress standard. It’s also listed on the blueprints as a CHST, ASP, and CSP exams topic. Here is what you need to know about heat stress for these exams.

1.     The 4 most common types of heat illness:

a.     Heat rash – is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

b.     Heat cramps – painful muscle spasms generally occurring when exerting yourself in hot environments. Fluid and electrolyte loss often contribute to heat cramps.

c.     Heat exhaustion – heavy sweating, pale, clammy skin, fatigue or weakness, nausea or vomiting, possible fainting, and weak but faster pulse or heart rate. Untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.

d.     Heat stroke: hot, red, dry, or moist skin, high body temperature >103°F, rapid and strong pulse or heart rate, loss of consciousness. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency.


2.     First aid:

a.     Move the person out of the heat and into a shady or air-conditioned place.

b.     Lay the person down and raise the legs and feet slightly.

c.     Remove tight or heavy clothing.

d.     Have the person sip chilled water, a sports drink containing electrolytes or another nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.

e.     Cool the person by spraying or sponging with cool water and fanning.

f.      Monitor the person carefully.

g.     If a heat stroke is suspected, immediately call911 or take the person to a hospital. Any delay in seeking medical help can befatal. While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, move the person to anair-conditioned environment—or at least a cool, shady area—and remove anyunnecessary clothing.


3.     Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) – The environmental heat index typically used to evaluate industrial heat stress. The WBGT gives amore accurate reading by measuring the radiation levels, wind movement, humidity, and ambient temperature. There are two WBGT formulas; one is used indoors with no sun load and the second accounts for sun load outside.


4.     Program elements or controls include:

a.     Provide regular hydration and cooling areas.

b.     Work-rest cycles – Workers in hot environments need more break periods than unexposed workers. The WBGT is used

c.     Acclimatization – The process of gaining tolerance to climates or conditions. NIOSH states, “Most workers should be able to safely handle a full workload after four days of gradual increase, even though they will usually not be fully acclimatized yet. Most people will continue to see beneficial improvements in heat tolerance for up to two weeks after exposure starts.”


5.     Factors that may predispose a worker to heat-related disorders include:

·       Age

·       Fairness of skin

·       Overall health

·       Medication

·       Caffeine

·       Alcohol consumption

·       General physical conditioning


In addition to being familiar with heat illnesses., first aid, and the controls, you may need to calculate the WBGT using the formula WBGT = 0.7WB + 0.2GT + 0.1DB.  

Considering OSHA’s intense focus on heat illness prevention, it’s imperative that safety professionals are able to recognize, treat, and prevent heat illness. Heat illness can occur inside and outside on cloudy or sunny days.

Do you need the latest exam prep material? Under the Exam Materials tab, you can find our exam prep guidebooks and practice tests for the ASP, CSP, and CHST.

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