& Consulting, Inc.

Donny Smith

HEAT STRESS- DEALING WITH SOUTHEAST TEXAS HEAT

We were just complaining that it was too cold a couple of months ago, now it’s hot, real hot.  We deal with it each and every year.  There are cooler climates south of us and there are warmer climates north of us.  What makes it so dangerously hot here is our evil enemy- Relative Humidity.  The gulf breezes suck moisture from the coast and soak our air, which actually becomes very important when trying to work outside and stay cool.

The human body is an engineering phenomenon, it constantly works at self-preservation and wants to stay at a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees. Your circulatory system is in charge of that job and acts similar to a radiator.  When you’re idle, sitting behind your desk, or watching TV, blood is traveling around your entire body in equal amounts so everything is happy.   When you’re activity increases, muscle contractions create heat, and the body responds to this by opening up the blood vessels near the skin in order to dissipate that added heat and cool itself down.  If that is not enough cooling, the body kicks in the sweat glands to add to the cooling effect.  This is where the evil relative humidity comes into play.  In low humidity, the sweat on your skin is evaporated at such a rate that it is very efficient in cooling you down.  However, in our high humidity climate, there is not enough room in the air for our sweat to evaporate into and the cooling effect is less effective.  So, in SE Texas we sweat, and sweat a lot and in turn, we’ve got to drink a lot of water or sports drinks to aid in this process of cooling down. 

All workers who are in hot environments (outside, near a furnace, in a kitchen…) should recognize the initial signs of heat stress in themselves.  These symptoms usually start off with dizziness and headache and may progress into nausea and vomiting.  As the body becomes more dehydrated thus a higher than normal temperature, it will move more blood to the vital organs to preserve them and decrease the amount of blood traveling to the skin for cooling.  Next is a rapid rise in temperature leading to an altered mental status and possibly seizures, a condition commonly known as HEAT STROKE.

Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency and can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles and ultimately lead to death.  It occurs when the body is unable to sweat and the core temperature rises and effectively cooks the internal organs.  Signs include;

  • High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
  • Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
  • Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache. Your head may throb.

 Prevention-  Keep an eye on the heat advisories, drink plenty of water, work in the cooler hours if possible, DRINK PLENTY OF WATER, take frequent rest breaks in shaded cooler areas, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine and heavy meals and drink plenty of water.