BardsleyIn case you missed it (or want to forget it), this winter has been tough on most of the nation. Severe cold and heavy snowfall have plagued much of the United States over the last several months. It is now early May, the snow is melted and it is time to get in the field. But before we don our PPE/safety gear and start drilling, let’s review one of the most dangerous hazards we face in the field: heat–related illness/injuries.

As you work in the field and exert energy, your body builds up heat. The excess heat causes your body to sweat, and as the sweat evaporates, you cool down. When your body is unable to cool itself, you may develop symptoms of heat stress.

The risk of heat stress depends on many variables including:

  • Your physical condition
  • Medications
  • Weather, temperature, humidity and wind
  • Type of clothing and PPE worn
  • Amount of physical exertion
  • Working conditions; full sun or shade

The types of heat–related illness vary from mild to life threatening and include the following:

Dehydration: Your body is sweating fluids faster than they are being replenished. You may feel weak and very thirsty.

Heat Rash/Prickly Heat: This rash occurs in areas where sweat is not easily removed from the surface of the skin. Heat rash can be extremely irritating because it develops in very sensitive areas of the body (if you have ever had prickly heat, you know what I am talking about). This problem can be mitigated by resting in a cool, dry place and allowing your clothing to dry. Bringing dry clothes to the site and changing in the middle of your shift may be helpful. While getting a rash is not life threatening, it is uncomfortable, may cause your performance to be degraded and, in extreme cases, could lead to infection if not treated.

Cramps: Muscle spasms occur due to the loss of electrolytes in the body due to heavy sweating. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium that are essential to the body. Large muscles/muscle groups such as thighs, shoulders and arms are all at risk for heat related cramps. In some cases, the cramps may occur hours after the activity is stopped. Staying hydrated and replacing electrolytes with sports drinks will help alleviate heat cramps.

Heat Exhaustion: Symptoms of heat exhaustion include clammy moist skin, dizziness and possible fainting. You may feel nauseated, have a headache and feel tired. If you have these symptoms, it’s time to get out of the sun, take a break and drink fluids. Removing your PPE and loosening/removing tight fitting clothes will also help.

Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is a life threatening emergency. Symptoms of heat stroke include hot, dry skin, rapid heartbeat, confusion, delirium, rapid/shallow breathing and loss of consciousness. If these symptoms are noted, call 911 and immediately take the following actions:

  • Move the victim to shade.
  • Remove or loosen clothing.
  • Cool the body, neck and head with cold water, ice packs and fans.
  • Place the victim in the recovery position — on their side with mouth open and down, limbs locked and chin up — until first responders arrive.
  • So how can you prevent heat stress? Follow these steps:
  • Review the symptoms of heat stress during the morning tailgate safety meeting.
  • Wear loose–fitting, light–colored clothing — without disrespecting the PPE requirements of the job.
  • Use fans or shade structures on site to minimize sun/heat exposure.
  • Start earlier in the day or work at night to eliminate working during the hottest time of the day.
  • Become acclimated to the weather before working long shifts.
  • Maintain body fluids: Drink about one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you are not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated beverages.
  • Build in rest periods during the shift.
  • Eat light meals and avoid heavy foods.

We are all glad that winter is finally over and we can get back into the field to drill. Let’s get the drilling season started off on the right foot by reviewing heat stress issues. Watch out for each other on the jobsite and learn to recognize the symptoms of heat stress. Simple steps can significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for heat related injury or illness.