Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the heat wave of 1995 more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat. In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.
North American summers are hot; most summers see heat waves in one or more parts of the United States. East of the Rockies, they tend to combine both high temperature and high humidity; although some of the worst heat waves have been catastrophically dry.
How does heat affect the workplace? When exposed to extreme heat or when working in hot environments, workers can be at risk of heat stress. Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. Heat rashes, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke can occur as a result. Heat also increases the risk of workplace injuries. Sweaty palms, fogged safety glasses and dizziness can all contribute to injury.
Who's at risk? Workers with heart disease, high blood pressure, overweight or over 65 years are at greatest risk. Those who work outdoors, including farmers, utility and construction workers, firefighters, miners, factory works, and bakery workers are a few examples.
Here are a few tips and reminders for keeping yourself, loved ones, and pets safe when temperatures rise:
- Those whose work, or whose activity schedule requires that they be, outdoors for prolonged periods should take frequent breaks to get out of the sun.
- Remain well hydrated (drink plenty of water). Water is the best fluid to drink to re-hydrate and/or to stay hydrated. Beverages high in sugar or caffeine are not recommended.
- Prolonged exposure to heat and humidity may increase the chances for a variety of ailments such as sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat stroke (hypothermia), and heat cramps.
- Pets and small children should never be left in automobiles, even for short periods of time. Seeing as though most episodes of extreme heat occur in the spring and summer months, when the sun angle is highest, the interior of an automobile can undergo rapid rises in temperature very quickly. Did you know that recent studies suggest that on a day when the temperature is 80 degrees, the interior of an automobile with closed windows is capable of reaching 120 degrees after an hour of being left unattended? Imagine how high those temperatures could get if the air temperature were 85 or even 90 degrees! Furthermore, closed windows do not allow for the heat to escape as easily (open windows will not provide much heat reduction either, especially if the vehicle is stationary). Dangerous, or even life threatening, conditions may materialize for pets, children, and even adults in these situations.
- Check on the elderly to ensure that they are remaining safe and healthy.
- Make sure pets have adequate fresh, cold water and food. Pets should not be left outdoors in the heat for prolonged periods of time.
- Get out of the heat, and into an air conditioned environment, for at least a few hours each day during periods of excessive heat. If your home is not air conditioned, go to a shopping mall or other air conditioned place.