Scholars in the athletic field have studied heat-related illnesses and their impact on athletes of all ages and levels. Their findings can be applied to industrial settings to aid safety professionals in preventing heat-related illnesses in the workplace.
Heat-related illnesses, injuries, and death are entirely preventable in the workforce. OSHA's national heat stress campaign centers around prevention, water, rest, and shade best practices, and has been very successful at raising awareness to the safety concern around heat stress. Yet heat-related deaths doubled from 2014 to 2015, and the number of non-fatal cases resulting from excessive heat exposure rose to 2830 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). With weather patterns becoming increasingly unpredictable, it is more important than ever for safety professionals to be informed on the latest research to prevent future heat-related illness and injuries. We will explore the science behind heat stress, how to recognize symptoms in the field, and how research from athletics can be used to prevent occupational heat illnesses, injuries, and most importantly, deaths.
Heat-related illness (HRI) is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of health issues that result from prolonged exposure to environmental heat and humidity, including heat rash, cramps, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. They are studied at length by professionals in various fields, including occupational health and athletics. To better understand how these illnesses and injuries occur, it is important to understand the underlying body processes that are taking place, and how they contribute to the onset of symptoms.
Thermoregulation is the complex interaction of the body's central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the skin that helps maintain a core temperature of approximately 98.6° Fahrenheit. Thermoregulation operates like a home thermostat system in that the body (the hypothalamus) receives information from skin receptors and circulating blood and initiates heat transfer responses as needed.