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Be Cool!

UE News, August 1997

These are the dog days of summer. Work is hard and the heat makes it that much more unpleasant.

But we can't let ourselves be made sick by the heat. No matter how much production the boss wants from us, we just can't produce as much in the high heat of summer as we do in the spring or in the autumn. If we don't get enough time for rest breaks, if we don't have adequate supplies of fluids, if we don't get time to adjust our bodies to hot weather work, we are going to get sick!

Each summer in the U.S., workers die from the effects of heat stress. We have to learn what to do to prevent heat cramps. And we have to learn the life-and-death differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke..

Exhaustion vs. Stroke

Heat exhaustion makes us ill, but with time and rest we will recover. Heat stroke can come on us quickly and unexpectedly, and can kill within minutes. Almost half of all heat stroke victims die from this illness.

Let's compare the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In many ways, knowing the difference is as important as knowing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) - both can save lives when minutes count.


The table below shows the various symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

Heat Exhaustion

Heat Stroke

Heavy sweating

Cool, moist skin

Pale skin

Normal body temperature

Dizziness, nausea

Little or no sweating

Hot, dry skin

Red, blotchy skin

High body temperature (105 F)

Dizziness, nausea, confusion

The two key differences between symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke (highlighted above) are the condition of the skin - cool and moist for heat exhaustion, dry for heat stroke - and body temperature - the forehead feels normal for heat exhaustion and very hot for heat stress.

These reflect the fact that for heat exhaustion, the body is working very hard and sweating a lot to meet the heat load - but the body is still able to cope with the heat. So the skin is moist from sweating and body temperature is normal.

In the case of heat stroke, to put it plainly, the body's thermometer is broken. It can't cope wit the heat load. The body's sweat organs can't keep up with the heat load or are overwhelmed by it. So there is little or no perspiration and the skin is dry.

And since the body's temperature regulators are failing, the body's temperature rises to very high, life-threatening levels - often above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes as high as 110 degrees or more. At these high temperatures, various body organ systems break down and the person can suffer irreversible brain damage or death.


In the case of:

Heat stroke, two things must be done at once:

 One person should immediately call for competent medical aid, including an ambulance to immediately transport the person to the hospital.

 Meanwhile, other persons should immediately try to reduce the victim's body temperature. Put the person under cool shower or in a cool bath. Or else just wet the person down with cold water or wrap in a wet sheet, and fan vigorously.

Do not try to force fluids down the person's throat. This may choke the victim.

In the case of heat exhaustion, remove the stricken person to a cooler place and help him or her sit or lie down. Fan vigorously. Don't force the person to drink fluids, but give fluids on request and encourage the person to slip them slowly. The best fluids to give are those which contain salts or related electrolyte chemicals, such as apple juice, orange juice or Gatorade, but water will do. Don't let the person become chilled. Seek medical attention.


 Wear loose, thin clothing. Tight clothes can interfere with evaporation of sweat.

 If you work outdoors, wear light-colored rather than dark clothing. This helps cut down absorption of solar radiation.

 Drink plenty of fluids. Don't depend on your thirst to tell you when to take a drink - the body's thirst mechanism reacts slowly, so you may need to drink water long before you feel thirsty.

 Drink fluids with salts or electrolytes, not just water. Juices are fine. But don't use salt tablets - such a big dose of salts can put a strain on the heart.

 Insist through your union that you get more frequent rest breaks.

 If assigned to a very hot job, or if you suddenly become hot, insist that you be given a few days to acclimate to the heat.

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