Heat-related illness (HRI), often referred to as heat stress, describes a dangerous condition that may be experienced by indoor and outdoor workers who work in intensely hot environments.
Prolonged exposure to hot temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heatstroke, heat syncope, heat rash, heat edema, exhaustion, dehydration, and dizziness.
It is mandatory that all organizations take heat-stress management steps for the safety of workers in intensely hot environments. Workers who are vulnerable to heat stress include construction workers, miners, boilers, firefighters, and factory workers. Indoor workplaces susceptible to heat include bakeries, laundromats, commercial kitchens, ceramic plants, furnaces, and iron and steel manufacturing companies. Outdoor workplaces susceptible to heat include farms, construction sites, oil and gas companies, and waste management plants.
A person's body temperature remains stable as long as the outside temperature is the same as the skin's temperature (35°C). When environmental temperatures soar, a person's body temperature also rises. Heat-stress situations emerge when workers perform tedious and long-lasting work in a hot and humid environment while wearing protective clothing. The body always tends to balance the heat loss and heat gain. Therefore, when the body faces the heat burden, it begins to produce sweat by increasing the blood flow to the skin. In fiercely hot temperatures, however, the rate of heat gain is greater than the heat loss, which leads to an elevation in body temperature and therefore the heat-related illness.
Heat-related diseases can be prevented with effective ventilation and air-conditioning systems to keep the work environment cool. Workers should be effectively trained to identify the symptoms of heat stress and take preventive measures immediately. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers should be allowed to take water breaks and frequent short breaks. They should also be given their workloads gradually if they are not acclimatized to working in a hot environment. Their physical condition should be regularly monitored to detect early symptoms of heat stress, and they should be provided with loose-fitting clothing to help them feel cooler. Direct sunlight and similar heat sources should be blocked to minimize the risk of heat-related illness.
According to the OSHA, if any worker becomes prey to heat stress, he or she should be immediately carried to a shaded area and medical help should be requested. In the meantime, the worker should be fanned and given cold water to drink if possible.