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HOUSTON (CW39) – Heat stress is a combination of heat generated from physical activity, environmental factors, and clothing. Construction workers are particularly prone to experiencing heat stress. They are often exposed to hot environments or extreme heat. Workers can be at risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries.  

Construction work is labor intensive which can cause the body to generate excessive heat during the hottest times of the year. Jobs may also expose workers to heat sources that are part of the work process such as welding or laying hot asphalt. Non-climate-controlled spaces, such as attics and crawlspaces have little circulation which can aid in your body’s heating process.

Employer responsibility to protect workers 

  • Provide water, rest and shade 
  • Allow new workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they build a tolerance for working in the heat
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness 

Heat related illnesses include: heat stroke, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat cramps, and heat rash. There is a distinct difference in heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Spotting the signs could save a life.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include: heavy sweating, weakness or tiredness, cool, pale, clammy skin; fast, weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, fainting. To treat heat exhaustion move the person to a cooler environment such as a well air-conditioned room. Loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet clothes or have person sit in a cool bath. Offer sips of water. If person vomits more than once, seek medical attention.

Heat stroke symptoms include: throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, body temperature above 103°F, hot, red, dry or damp skin, rapid and strong pulse, fainting, loss of consciousness. To treat this call 911 or get the victim to a hospital. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Delay can be fatal. Move the victim to a cooler, preferably air-conditioned, environment. Reduce body temperature with cool cloths or bath. Use fan if heat index temperatures are below the high 90s. A fan can make you hotter at higher temperatures. Do NOT give fluids. 

It does not always need to be hot outside for a heat stroke to occur. Exertional heat stroke can happen in the absence of a hot environment, such as when working hard in the winter while wearing protective clothing that doesn’t allow the body’s heat to dissipate adequately. 

Personal risk factors:  How can you become less susceptible to heat related injuries?

  • Get fit! Lack of physical fitness can aid in heat related injuries. 
  • Stay away from alcohol consumption.
  • Limit caffeine.
  • Certain drugs and medications may aid in an increased risk for HRIs. Speak with your doctor for more information about the side effects of your medication when you are in hot environments.