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Heat-Related Illnesses: Symptoms and First Aid

Heat-Related Illnesses: Symptoms and First Aid

As temperatures increase, the risk of heat-related illnesses increases. Preventative action is required to protect employees. Frequency and length of rest periods and water intake should increase. A cool rest area should be provided. Cool (50°-60°F) water should be made available to workers to encourage them to drink small amounts frequently, e.g., one cup every 20 minutes. Ample supplies of liquids should be placed close to the work area. Although some commercial replacement drinks contain salt, this is not necessary for acclimatized individuals because most people add enough salt to their summer diets.

Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is a composite temperature used to estimate the effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed (‘wind chill’), and visible and infrared radiation (e.g., sunlight) on humans. The WBGT index was developed in 1956 by the United States Marine Corps at Parris Island to reduce heat stress injuries in recruits. It is determined with special equipment and calculated to reflect components of air, humidity and wind that affect ‘actual temperature’ experienced by personnel: WBGT is derived from the formula: 0.7Tw + 0.2Tg + 0.1Td.


Be familiar with signs/symptoms. Many heat injuries are preventable, and none need be fatal.

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.

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.

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 the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

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.

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