Staying Cool and Hydrated in Extreme Heat

July 9, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Too many workers, including postal employees, are exposed to heat on the job, in both indoor and outdoor environments. Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources (e.g. sunlight and hot air exhaust), high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness. This summer has already seen record high temperatures in many regions of the country, even in places such as the Pacific Northwest where many homes and businesses are not equipped with central air conditioning.

It is important to stay vigilant in maintaining safe workplaces and looking out for one another. If it is too hot at your workplace, the A/C is not working or there is no potable drinking water available, submit a PS Form 1767, Report of Hazard, Unsafe Condition or Practice to your supervisor. Mobilize other actions with your local union leadership and co-workers to ensure a safe workplace. Heat-related illness can quickly progress from the initial symptoms to a medical emergency. We must all do our best to be aware of symptoms for ourselves and our coworkers.

Below are some of the signs of heat-related illness:

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.

If experiencing heat rash, the rash area should be kept dry. Powder may be applied to increase comfort, but ointments and creams should not be used on a heat rash. Anything that makes the skin warm or moist may make the rash worse.

Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles – those used for performing the work – are usually most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

If you or a co-worker is experiencing heat cramps, they should replace fluid loss by drinking water and having a snack, and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade) every 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid salt tablets. Get medical help if the affected person has heart problems, is on a low sodium diet or if cramps do not subside within one hour.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst and heavy sweating.

Postal workers with signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment. If medical care is not available, call 911 immediately. Make sure that someone stays with the affected person until help arrives. Those experiencing heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot area and given liquids to drink. Remove unnecessary clothing including shoes and socks, cool the affected person with cold compresses to the head, neck, and face or have the affected person wash his or her head, face and neck with cold water.

Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately.

While calling 911, make sure that someone stays with the affected person until help arrives. Move them to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing. Wet the affected person with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling. Place cold wet cloths or ice all over the body or soak their clothing with cold water.

The Life You Save Could Be Your Own!

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