Resulting in numerous fatalities each year, high heat and humidity are a dangerous combination and one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States. Fortunately, heat–related deaths are preventable. Dr. Edward Bernacki, Executive Director for UT Health Austin’s WorkLife clinic discusses what you can do to stay safe throughout our Texas summers.
As an occupational health specialist what advice do you give to people to acclimate to the hot weather?
Heat related workers include those in construction, delivery service, roofers and groundskeepers. These jobs can be brutal when the heat is high and they are out there working. Dr. Bernacki advises individuals to take two weeks to acclimate to the heat in the summer time. It gives your body time to help your sweat rate go up and you the ability to cool down your body temperature. However, for those of us who only occasionally venture out, he advises the elderly and individuals with large body mass, musculature and kids to take the same precautions.The elderly are most vulnerable and don’t have the same capacity as adults to cool their bodies as quickly. Kids also have a reduced ability to dissipate heat and they forget to hydrate while playing. Make sure to check on children who play outside every 20-30 minutes and make sure they hydrate with water and of course don’t forget the sunscreen.
Is there anything you can do to speed up the two-week acclimatization period?
Not really, it’s the standard amount of time most people need to get used to working in the heat. Dr. Bernacki’s says sports teams have the right idea. For instances, football players don’t dress in full pads on day one - they work up slowly starting with a helmet, light shirt and shorts and add layers and graduated training practices until they can practice in full gear for prolonged periods of time.
Get ready for the hot weather with these tips:
- Dress lightly for the weather – football teams don’t begin practices with full pads on day one –they build up to full pads over a week or two –you can do the same –take it slowly when you are exposing yourself for extended periods in the heat.
- Take frequent water breaks - 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes –no less no more - no more because you can over-hydrate. Thirst is the best indicator for your need for water.
- Limit work or play during the hottest part of the day instead – plan activities in the morning or late afternoon.
- If you are working in the heat - OSHA and the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a Heat App to help people understand the risk of working in the heat and some tips to keep them safe. You can download it here for Apple and Android: OSHA/NIOSH Heat App
How dangerous is the humidity factor?
Humidity is as important as high temperatures when planning outdoor activities or work. Yes, humidity can mean the difference in how quickly someone can recover from heat exposure. When the relative humidity is 75% or higher, you cannot count on sweating to cool your body. High humid conditions and heat of close to 100 make it very difficult to cool a person down. If possible, take an affected person indoors into air conditioning or into an area with circulating air to begin the cool down process. In less humid conditions, it may be easier to cool someone down with cool compresses, water and get them to rest in a cool, shady location.
When should someone seek medical attention?
Bernacki says a good rule of thumb is that if someone loses consciousness, or gets very dizzy, if they are cold, clammy or even dry it’s best to call 911. He says, “It’s better to err on the side of safety, because it is really hard to make the diagnosis and there are other conditions that may cause the dizziness as well.”
At UT Health Austin’s WorkLife Worker’s Compensation and Walk-in clinic, expert providers are available to help you weather the summer safely. For more information about UT Health Austin call -1-833-UT-CARES or visit uthealthaustin.org.