July 15, 2008
Those in the horticultural trades have a love/hate relationship with summer. Each year it seems the season is getting hotter and hotter. Case in point, the federal department of the environment is predicting this summer will be even hotter than last.
For those who must work outside, some precautions may be taken to avoid health problems. Health officials say there are signs to look for indicating heat problems. A person with a moderate reaction or heat exhaustion will have some or all of the following symptoms: excessive sweating; cold, moist, pale or flushed skin; thirst; extreme weakness or fatigue; headache; nausea; lack of appetite; rapid, weak pulse; or giddiness. If not properly treated, the victim may collapse.

Anyone with mild or moderate symptoms should be moved to a cool, shaded place with circulating air. He or she should lie down and, if conscious, be given small sips of cool water at frequent intervals. If symptoms continue, call a doctor.

In severe cases of heat illness, a heat stroke may result. The victim’s face is flushed red and his skin is hot and dry, with no sweating. Victims develop a severe headache with deep, rapid breathing. They have a very high fever and may become delirious. They may become unconscious, have convulsions, or lapse into a coma. This condition is fatal unless emergency medical treatment is obtained. Call for medical help immediately. In the meantime, get the victim out of the heat. Loosen clothing and pour water over the entire body. Get air circulating around the body.

Recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and using preventive and control measures can reduce the frequency and severity of heat illness while increasing worker productivity.

To avoid heat stress:

  • Drink lots of fluids all day long! A worker out in the hot sun can sweat 2-3 gallons in a day. It is essential to replace this body fluid to prevent dangerous dehydration. Always have fluids handy.
  • Wear loose and light clothing if possible.
  • Take breaks in a cool spot.
  • Recognize the symptoms of heat stress (dizziness, headache, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea, difficult breathing and confusion).
  • Salt tablets are not recommended. Taking salt tablets can raise blood pressure, cause stomach ulcers, and seriously affect workers with heart disease.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat or head gear, protective UV sunglasses and sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

Employers’ need-to-do list

  • Train workers to recognize and prevent heat stress.
  • Establish a policy and plan to deal with extreme temperatures.
  • Monitor daily heat advisories and adjust schedules if possible.
  • Ensure employees have access to plenty of cool beverages (plain water is the liquid of choice).
  • Establish a buddy system which allows for close observation of co-workers.

Have a safe and prosperous summer of 2008. And, remember, it could be January.