MIAMI COUNTY — Enjoying the summertime weather doesn’t come without risks in extreme conditions.
According to Michelle Francisco, Safety Council program manager for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Division of Safety and Hygiene, heat is one of the leading weather-related causes of death and injury in the U.S. — and also one of the most preventable.
Francisco said there are key tips to remember when spending time outdoors this summer to prevent injury and illness.
Francisco reminds area residents that if they work outside, they need to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks in the shade.
Being outside in the heat for a long period of time can lead you to sweat excessively and place a strain on your body due to the loss of certain electrolytes — sodium, potassium and chloride, she said. To stay hydrated on hot days, it’s important to not only drink plenty of water, but to also replenish your body’s fluids and electrolytes with sports drinks, such as Gatorade and coconut water, she said.
“Don’t wait to drink water until you’re thirsty,” Francisco said.
She also suggests using a “buddy system“ if you’re working in excessive temperature conditions, as there are warnings signs that can be noticed for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Francisco said if you start displaying signs of cramps, headache, sweaty skin, vomiting, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, nausea and/or weakness, you may be suffering from heat exhaustion.
If you start displaying signs of confusion, red, hot, dry skin, high temperature, rapid, shallow breathing, faint and/or start having convulsions, you may be suffering from a heat stroke, she said.
“If you have a ‘buddy system,’ where you have a friend out with you while you are doing yard work or a co-worker out in the field, you can hold each other accountable,” she said. “You can watch your buddy to ensure they’re staying hydrated and practicing other safe behaviors, look out for the signs of symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and be there to call 9-1-1 should they need medical attention.”
According to Francisco, residents also should limit strenuous outdoor activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day. Scheduling strenuous activities in the early a.m. hours can reduce your risk as well. Wearing light-colored and loose clothing also can help with staying cool, as dark colors absorb the sun’s rays, she said.
If you do not have air conditioning, create a plan for where you can go for heat relief — especially during the hottest parts of the day. Francisco suggests visiting places like libraries, theaters, and malls — public places that have air conditioning to keep cool.
Checking on family, friends and neighbors who are elderly and sick and may not have adequate protection from the heat also is an important tip to remember, Francisco said.
“The body’s ability to regulate its temperature isn’t fully developed in the young and may be reduced by illness, medications or other factors in older adults, so children and the elderly are at a higher risk for heat illness during periods of hot weather,” she said.
To reduce this risk, it’s important to dress infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and encourage the elderly to do the same, according to Francisco. If you know an older adult, you can help by checking on them frequently in hot weather and by taking them to an air-conditioned place, such as a shopping mall or library, if they do not have air conditioning at home and have transportation trouble, Francisco said.
In 2017, according to San Jose State University, 42 children in the U.S. died from heatstroke after being left in cars, she said.
“It’s vital to also remember to never leave children or anyone with limited mobility alone in a parked car, even for a few minutes and even if the windows are open,” she said.
Francisco said symptoms of heat overexertion can range from mild (heat exhaustion) to life-threatening (heat stroke). Preparing yourself for the heat is an often overlooked first step, she said. Francisco said to watch the weather forecast, get enough rest, stay hydrated, avoid caffeine and alcohol and dress appropriately.
Using a good suntan lotion to block the sun’s rays also is an important factor in the summer, she said. For outdoor workers, according to a recent EHS Today article, she said, sunscreen should be a minimum of SPF 30 or above and preferably water-resistant. It should also cover all bases, protecting against harmful UV-A and UV-B rays as well as the artificial UV-C rays created by industrial processes such as welding.
“Sunscreen should be applied to exposed skin 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapplication is crucial, too; it is recommended that sunscreen be reapplied liberally every two to three hours,” Francisco said.
Pet care also is important in the extreme conditions Ohio sometimes offers up, Francisco reminds.
“The main heat safety tips when it comes to pets are to provide plenty of fresh water for them and ensure they are in a shady area if they are outside,” Francisco said. “It’s very important for people to remember to never leave their pet in a parked car as well — they can suffer from heat-related illness, too.”
For more safety tips and information to stay safe this summer, visit BeSafeOhio.com.