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Staying safe in the summer heat at your California workplace

California is renowned for its sunshine, fertile land and temperate climate. The state has just about anything a person could want, from mountains to deserts, and oceans to amusements. The long summer season is great for people wanting to soak up a few rays or enjoy a day out on the water, but that same warm California sun can be deadly for people whose work makes them vulnerable to heat-related workplace injuries or illnesses.

Most of us have a basic idea of how to deal with hot weather, including wearing breathable clothing, drinking plenty of water, wearing sun protection and taking frequent breaks. The problem comes when one's position (farm workers, construction crews, road repair persons, firefighters, police officers and factory workers, to name a few) doesn't allow much of a respite from the heat.

There are several occupational illnesses and injuries that are associated with heat. The most serious of these is heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body's internal thermostat can't keep up with the demands posed by exposure to heat. Essentially, the body loses the ability to cool itself. This can cause extremely high body temperatures (106 or above is possible within mere minutes if someone is suffering from heat stroke), organ damage, brain damage and even death if not quickly and effectively treated. Workers suffering from heat stroke – or who are showing symptoms commonly associated with heat stroke, including a very high fever, confusion, hot/dry skin, hallucinations, dizziness and headache – should be moved to a cooler area immediately, given fluids and given immediate medical attention. 

Another heat-related illness commonly seen in vulnerable workers during the summer months is heat exhaustion. It is similar in some respects to heat stroke, but is caused by the loss of water and salt from the body, usually as a result of profuse sweating. Heat exhaustion symptoms include extreme sweating, fainting, clammy skin, muscle cramps and nausea. Workers dealing with heat exhaustion or any other heat-related conditions should be moved to a cooler location or shaded area, given adequate restorative hydration and given adequate time to rest. 

Though some workers are more vulnerable than others to heat-related illnesses and conditions, and it may even be inevitable for some professions, by taking proper precautions, it is possible to decrease your chances of suffering a serious heat-related workplace injury or illness this summer. 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Heat Stress," accessed June 20, 2014. 

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