How to prevent and respond to heat-related illness

May 14, 2014


As temperatures and humidity are beginning to rise in many states, it is important to take steps to prevent heat-related illness.

Heat stress occurs when internal body temperature reaches more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Heat illness significantly reduces miners’ performance and can require medical attention.

MSHA notes that the best solution to dehydration and heat-related illness is prevention, so the agency is offering tips on recognizing risk factors, signs and symptoms of heat stress, as well as prevention and response methods.

Heat stress risk factors:

  • Heavy and prolonged physical labor

  • Hot, humid weather

  • Direct sunlight

  • Working near hot equipment

  • Wearing chemical protective clothing, some masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • Working in a deep mine

  • Lack of acclimatization (adjusting to a new climate)

  • Dehydration

  • Age

  • Conditions such as a previous heat-related illness, heart or lung disease, high blood pressure, overweight or thyroid disease

  • Some medications, including over-the-counter drugs

MSHA recommends seeking medical advice regarding these risk factors. For more information on risk factors for heat stress, click here.

Heat exhaustion signs and symptoms, categorized with most serious at the top:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Seizures

  • Hot and dry skin

  • Confusion or delirium

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Weakness

  • Irritability

  • Thirst

  • Heavy sweating

  • Muscle cramps and pain

  • Cluster of red pimples or small blisters that may appear on the skin of the neck, upper chest, under the breasts, in the groin and in the elbow creases

How to prevent heat stress:

  • Slow the pace of heavy physical labor or reschedule it for a cooler time, such as night or early morning

  • Take frequent work breaks

  • Provide shade

  • Provide appropriate PPE and encourage light clothing that covers the skin

  • Discourage beverages with high caffeine, which promote urination and water loss

  • Provide chilled potable water

  • Discourage heavy meals before working in heat

  • Shield hot equipment or work away from it

  • Use air conditioning in spaces such as environmental cabs

  • Provide training in recognizing risk factors and the signs and symptoms of heat stress

What to do if you notice signs and symptoms of heat-related illness:

If a miner appears to be suffering from heat stress or exhaustion, MSHA says to take the miner to a cool (shaded) environment to rest (sit or lie down).

If the person is alert, give them water — in small portions — to drink.

MSHA warns that heat stress can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening medical emergency. If the miner is unconscious or nearly unconscious, having seizures, has hot and dry skin and/or is delirious, call 911 and get medical attention immediately. This type of incident should also be immediately reported to MSHA. For more details about immediately reportable incidents, click here.

All recommendations in this report are provided by MSHA via a hazard alert. To read the full hazard alert, click here.

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