Heatstroke Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment for Flaggers

Hot Sunny Day Graphic

but workers are especially at risk during the warmer summer months. Whether you work outside or indoors, it’s important to learn to recognize signs and symptoms of heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses—especially when temperatures rise.

Risk factors for heat illnesses include high temperature and/or humidity, direct sun exposure, heavy physical labor, low liquid intake, and wearing on-breathable clothing. Lack of exposure to hot workplaces also increases the risk of heat-related illness.Basic knowledge of these illnesses and their symptoms can help with their prevention and identification.

Keep Cool and Call 911

In severe cases, heat-related illnesses can lead to death. If the victim is unresponsive, or you aren’t sure what to do, the most important thing you can do is keep them cool and call 911.

Heat-Related Illness Symptoms Treatment
Heat stroke, the most severe type of heat illness, is severe overheating of the body’s core. It can develop from heat exhaustion, extreme high temperatures, the body’s inability to sweat, or clothing that does not “breathe.”
  • high body temperature (103 degrees or higher)
  • headache, nausea
  • altered mental status
  • loss of consciousness
The heat stroke victim will die if not cooled immediately. Pour water over the victim’s head, neck, and torso. Once the victim’s mental status has improved, cool slowly. The heat stroke victim should always be seen at the emergency room.
Heat exhaustion is dehydration due to overheating. The problem is not overheating, but dehydration. It can occur at mild temperatures if the victim is overdressed and sweats excessively.
  • heavy sweating
  • clammy skin
  • nausea
  • weakness
In its early stages, heat exhaustion is treated by having the victim rest, retreat from the heat, and drink water. Electrolyte replacement drinks are beneficial if available, but do not use salt tablets. If the person is unconscious or unable to drink water, call 9-1-1.
Heat cramps may occur due to dehydration.
  • painful muscle spasms in the arms, legs, core, and back.
Massage and electrolyte replacement drinks are commonly used to treat heat cramps. Avoid physical exertion in the hours after experiencing heat cramps, even if you feel better. Seek medical attention if heat cramps continue more than one hour post-treatment.
Heat rash is caused by blocked sweat ducts that trap perspiration beneath the skin.
  • blisters or raised bumps on the skin’s surface 
  • An itchy, “prickly” feeling on the skin
The best way to prevent heat rash is to avoid overheating. Choose well-ventilated, lightweight clothing if you know you will be working in the heat. Tight-fitting clothing can exacerbate the condition.
Dehydration is caused when the body loses too much fluid. Severe dehydration can result in delirium or loss of consciousness, but even mild dehydration can result in impaired judgement. Your body may be affected by lack of fluids before you feel thirsty. Therefore, it’s important to hydrate throughout the day.
  • thirst
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • lethargy
Bring an equal amount of water and electrolyte replacement drinks with you to the worksite (electrolyte drinks can actually make you ill if you drink too much). Have enough water on hand to cover your entire shift. Caffeine has a dehydrating effect. Avoid drinking coffee, sodas, or energy drinks with caffeine unless you are balancing them with adequate amounts of water.
Sunburn: If you’re working outside, take care to avoid sunburns as well. Sunburns should be avoided not only to prevent discomfort, but also to prevent serious illnesses such skin cancer, including the least common but most serious type, malignant melanoma.
  • Changes in skin tone, such as pinkness or redness
  • Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch
  • Headache, fever, nausea and fatigue
  • Pain and tenderness
Sunscreen application is recommended on cloudy days as well as sunny days. Clouds do not stop the sun’s rays. A wide-brimmed hat and lightweight, breathable clothing with UV protection is a good choice if you know you will be working in direct sunlight for an extended period of time. For maximum protection and effectiveness, apply the sunscreen to all exposed parts of your body 15 minutes before your skin is exposed to the sun. You may need to reapply at various times throughout the day.

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