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Protect yourself from heat illness

Agriculture.com Staff 07/17/2012 @ 2:30pm

From University of Wisconsin Extension

Heat exposure kills more people each year than floods, tornadoes, lightning, and hurricanes combined. Heat kills more than 1,000 people each year in the US. Young children and elderly people have a higher potential for heat-related problems since they can have a more difficult time regulating temperature. Because of outside work, many agricultural workers are at high risk. A recent study by the CDC found that 68 crop production workers died from heat exposure from 1992-2006.

Heat-related illness can develop quickly and progress to deadly stages. Heat exhaustion, an early stage of heat-related illness can move into “heatstroke.” A significant percentage of people who develop heatstroke will die.

Several studies suggest that high body temperature from working in the heat can impair the ability to think correctly and make complex decisions. Reaction time can also be adversely affected leading to major safety concerns for any person who operates dangerous farm equipment or works in close contact with large animals.

It’s difficult to give a specific temperature or humidity level that will “warn” people of unsafe conditions. During physical work, our body generates heat. During intense work like lifting bales, shoveling, or moving animals, workers can have a hard time cooling themselves. Working in sunlight also raises body temperature including working in an enclosed cab of a tractor with no air conditioner and minimal air movement. A worker’s ability to stay cool also depends on clothing, physical conditioning to heat and humidity, and level of health and fitness.

A Few Practical Actions:

Plan strenuous tasks for cooler times of the day (morning or very late afternoon). Watch for outdoor conditions and adjust assignments to reduce risk. Communicate and demonstrate safety actions to workers in a language they understand. Take frequent breaks. Get out of the heat and sunlight as you rest. Fans help evaporate sweat providing an important cooling effect. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. A hat also provides sun protection, but should be loose and well-ventilated. Apply sunscreen to protect against sunburn and skin cancer.

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