Understanding Heat Illness

Learn about what heat illness is, its types, what causes it, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.

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Published 9 Jul 2022

What is Heat Illness?

Heat illness is a condition that’s caused by the body not being able to handle the temperature conditions, particularly heat loads. In simpler terms, heat illnesses are conditions that result from your body not being able to bear the heat.

Some examples of heat illnesses are heat stroke, heat stress, heat exhaustion, fainting, and fatigue. However, there are many other types of heat illnesses that one may fall victim to, especially during the hotter times of the year or if there’s a drought.

A lot of the time, the symptoms of heat illness aren’t recognized right away and develop very quickly. This is why preventing heat illness is crucial during the summer season and when working in hot climates to avoid undesirable outcomes.

What are the Types of Heat Illnesses?

With the variety of existing heat illnesses, it can be challenging for a person to identify whether they are struggling with it or not. However, for a basic understanding, you can divide heat illness into two categories: mild and severe.

Mild

These types of heat illnesses don’t have symptoms that are as serious as severe ones but still need to be taken seriously. While they don’t cause that much trouble at their onset, they can lead to more complex conditions down the line, which is why immediate treatment is necessary.

Some examples of mild heat illnesses are heat rashes and heat cramps.

Severe

Severe heat illnesses are much more serious. Some symptoms of a severe heat illness are fainting, cramps, a weak pulse, weak muscles, pale skin, vomiting, and more. Examples of severe heat illnesses are heat strokes and heat exhaustion.

If someone is suffering from severe heat illness, it’s absolutely crucial to seek medical care right away to reduce the damage.

Causes of Heat Illnesses

Heat illness is caused by extreme heat. If a person’s body temperature gets too high, their body may be unable to handle it, resulting in these illnesses. When working in conditions with more than 60% humidity, it can be hard for sweat to evaporate, which can cause body temperature to rise even further.

Generally, you can get heat illness wherever you are and regardless of what you’re doing. For example, standing in a hot space for too long without proper hydration can cause a heat illness, and so does exercising during a particularly hot summer day.

Heat illnesses cover a wide range of conditions. There are four common heat illnesses that most people are familiar with: heat rashes, cramps, exhaustion, and stroke. The least severe of these conditions are the rashes while the most severe of them is the heat stroke.

With that said, there are many things that can cause these conditions. So, let’s go over them one by one.

  • Heat rash – This happens when too much sweat gets caught under your skin, which blocks your sweat glands.
  • Heat cramps – When you sweat excessively, your body loses electrolytes and fluids, which causes muscles to cramp. And when temperatures are hotter, there’s a higher chance of developing heat cramps.
  • Heat exhaustion – This occurs when you’re in scorchingly hot conditions for a long time without proper hydration.
  • Heat stroke – This happens when a person’s core temperature increases quickly because of humidity and heat levels in an area.

How to Prevent Them in the Workplace

One important thing to note about heat illnesses is that they are preventable. Under the proper conditions, heat illnesses won’t occur. And if they do, the team needs to have adequate protocol training to ensure that everyone in the workplace is safe and protected in the event of an emergency.

When working in hot areas, climate control is crucial. To start, it’s a must to manage and monitor the environmental conditions in the workplace at all times. It ensures that working conditions are never too hot or dangerous for employees.

Additionally, managers can take the following steps to prevent heat illnesses in the workplace:

  • Prescribe or recommend climate-appropriate clothing that won’t overheat.
  • Always provide a shaded area with cooler temperatures for workers who need to stay under the sun.
  • Discourage the consumption of caffeine and alcohol during work hours.
  • Allow the workers to get used to the temperatures by starting them with lower workloads and working hours under the sun and slowly increasing it once they acclimatize.
  • Include regular breaks in the schedule.
  • Ensure that workers are always hydrated by providing beverages, preferably cold ones.

Heat illness is preventable, so it’s always better to work on ways to prevent it from happening rather than preparing to treat the condition. For this reason, it’s crucial for managers to always monitor the environmental conditions in their workplace and understand how to spot the signs of heat illness.

Symptoms of heat illness can progress rather quickly, so immediate detection and treatment are key. That’s why posting infographics in the working area with the signs of heat illness and what to do when it happens can be crucial during emergencies.

Additionally, it’s always important to take heat illness seriously. Whenever a worker reports having symptoms of any heat illness, make sure they are given the proper time to rest and recover.

This also means protecting the most vulnerable workers from heat illness. Elderly people, workers who are outside most of the time, and those who aren’t in controlled climates are at high-risk for heat illness. These circumstances are something everyone should take seriously.

Tools such as SHEQSY are great for employees to have during the summer months, as these apps allow them to send an SOS message when it can be hard to call or type a phone number. Of course, this is on top of the summer safety training and strategies managers implement to ensure no one gets heat illness while working.

SafetyCulture staff writer

Leon Altomonte

Leon Altomonte is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He got into content writing while taking up a language degree and has written copy for various web pages and blogs. Aside from working as a freelance writer, Leon is also a musician who spends most of his free time playing gigs and at the studio.

Leon Altomonte is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He got into content writing while taking up a language degree and has written copy for various web pages and blogs. Aside from working as a freelance writer, Leon is also a musician who spends most of his free time playing gigs and at the studio.