Text Equivalent of Heat-Related Illnesses PDF

[Logo: AgriSafe Network: protecting the people who feed the world.]

Farmers and agricultural workers perform work in a wide range of environmental conditions. The severity of symptoms will vary, but knowing the warning signs of heat-related illness can save lives. Deaths attributed to natural heat exposure represent a continuing public health concern. Preparedness and response initiatives that limit exposure during periods of extreme heat can reduce mortality. During 2018–2020, a total of 3,066 heat-related deaths occurred. The highest percentage of heat-related deaths occurred among persons aged 55–64 years (19%).

Special populations within the agricultural community may have elevated risk for complications from the heat. Older workers may have more difficulty regulating body temperature. Young children sweat less and quickly produce more heat than adults. Farmworkers may be working far from water or shade, may be compensated in a way that discourages taking a break, and may be fearful of reporting any symptoms of heat-related illness to supervisors.

How to prevent heat-related illnesses and fatalities

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Rest in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers.
  • “Easy does it” on your first days of work in the heat. You need to get used to it.

Source: OSHA’s Water, Rest, Shade campaign

Heat index chart

If the heat index is less than 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk for heat-related illness is lower. Use basic heat safety and planning.

If the heat index is 91 degrees to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk for heat-related illness is moderate. Implement precautions and heighten awareness.

If the heat index is 103 degrees to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk for heat-related illness is high. Use additional precautions to protect workers.

If the heat index is greater than 115 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk for heat-related illness is very high to extreme. Use even more aggressive protective measures.

Source: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/edresources.html

Factors associated with heat-related illnesses

  • Outdoor temperature
  • Length of sun exposure
  • Dehydration
  • Workloads and speed of work
  • Age
  • Preexisting health conditions
  • Acclimatization (how new the person is to the heat and the job)

[Photo: worker resting in the shade wearing sun safe clothing.]

Types of heat-related illnesses

Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. It is a central nervous system failure in which the body loses its ability to regulate temperature. The ability to sweat is lost, the heat-regulating system is overwhelmed, and body temperature rises rapidly. Signs and symptoms include hot and dry skin, body temperature of 104 degrees or higher, rapid heart rate, possible absence of sweating, chills, confusion, dizziness, possible slurred speech, possible seizures, and possible loss of consciousness. This is a medical emergency. Call 911. Stay with the worker until help arrives. Place cold wet towels or ice on the worker’s head, neck, armpits, and groin. Cool the worker quickly with a cold water or ice bath if possible. You can also wet the skin, place cold wet towels on the skin, or soak the clothing in cool water. Fan air around the worker.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion means the body has experienced an excessive loss of salts. The amount of water lost in perspiration exceeds water intake. The onset is usually gradual. Signs and symptoms include pale and cool or flushed skin, headache, sweating, clammy skin, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, weakness, lethargy, dizziness, confusion, elevated body temperature, thirst, irritability, and decreased urine output. Immediately take the worker to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment. If medical care is unavailable, call 911. Stay with the worker until help arrives. Remove unnecessary clothing including shoes and socks. Cool the worker with cold compresses or have them wash their head, face, and neck with cold water. Do not lot let the worker return to work that day.

Heat Syncope a.k.a. Fainting

Heat syncope, or fainting, results from blood pooling in the skin or lower parts of the body, causing decreased blood flow to the brain. This may happen when standing in one place for a long period or with sudden movement from sitting or lying down. Signs and symptoms include dizziness, lightheaded sensation, and fainting. Move the worker to a cool, shaded area. Have the worker lie down. Have the worker drink cool fluids while avoiding beverages with caffeine or alcohol.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are caused by a temporary sodium or fluid imbalance while performing intense work or exercise in a high heat environment. Signs and symptoms include spasms and pain in the muscles of the arms, legs, or abdomen. Have the worker drink water and eat a snack and/or a sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid salt tablets. The worker should wait a few hours before returning to strenuous work. Seek medical attention if the worker has heart problems or is on a low-sodium diet, or if the cramps do not subside within one hour.

Heat Rash

Heat rash looks like a red, blotchy rash with clusters of small pimples or blisters. It may be especially noticeable in areas that have extended contact with damp or tight clothing. It may cover a large area of the body and may impede the body’s ability to regulate temperature by sweating. Remove constrictive or damp clothing. Keep the affected area dry. Treat with a corn powder or calming lotion. If it persists for more than a few days, see a healthcare provider. Try to move the worker to a cooler, less humid environment when possible.

For more information or to access a related webinar training, go to http://www.agrisafe.org

Last reviewed February 2023.

This material was produced under a grant (SH24891SH3) from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. It does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.