Beat the Heat: How to stay cool in hot weather

Aug 18, 2023

Farm Safety

Manual labor outdoors imposes many risks and those risks increase in the summer. Summertime comes with the threat of heat stress, which could result in heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Heat stress is the outcome of when the body’s core temperature rises to a dangerous level.

With the high level of outdoor workers that CVA both employs and serves, it is crucial to educate on how to prevent and handle heat stress so that we can prevent illness or, in severe cases, death. The National Weather service has provided statistics showing that heat causes more fatalities than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. That is why it is so important to know how to handle heat stress and the issues it can lead to.

During this hot summer, there are several ways to stay cool and avoid heat illnesses: hydration is number one; make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after working in the heat. It’s recommended to drink a cup of water every 20 minutes, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks as those can lead to dehydration. Wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric, wide brimmed hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen will help protect you from harmful UV rays while outdoors. It is also important to plan your schedule to avoid working during the hottest parts of the day and to take regular breaks in the shade or air conditioning. While this is not a complete list of everything you can do to keep safe, it provides several preventative actions.

Farmers are often working long hours in high temperatures, which puts them in a higher risk category. Farmers and their employees spend time walking fields, working on irrigation systems, entering grain bins, and other outdoor activities exposing themselves to the heat. It is important to follow suggestions for keeping yourself and your employees safe. Many of these farm employees may lack previous outdoor employment experience, which leaves them unacclimated to high heat conditions. It is crucial to watch these individuals as nearly 3 out of 4 fatalities from heat illness occur within the first week of work. Be sure to encourage preventive actions and educate new employees on the risks of heat exposure.

While fatalities do occur, there are also minor types of heat illnesses. The least severe types are heat rash or heat cramps. A heat rash begins as a cluster of pimples or red blisters and can be treated with a cooler, less humid environment while keeping the rash dry; to increase comfort powder may be applied to the area. Never use ointments or cream on heat rash or it could impair the cooling and worsen the rash. Heat cramps can be in the abdomen, legs, or arms. Cramps can be cared for by drinking plenty of fluids (every 15-20 minutes), eating a snack, or drinking electrolytes. If the affected individual has heart problems, is on a low sodium diet, or cramps do not subside within an hour contact medical personnel.

More severe illnesses include fainting, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. When feeling lightheaded or dizzy, sit or lie down in a cool place and slowly drink water or clear juice; do not stand until dizziness subsides. Heat exhaustion is expressed by headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, elevated body temperature, and thirst with heavy sweating. When these symptoms occur take the person to a health facility or call for medical assistance. Stay with the person until help arrives, removing them from the hot area and ensuring they drink liquids. It will also help to remove any unnecessary clothing, such as shoes and socks, and cool with water, cold compresses, or fans.

The worst type of heat illness is heat stroke, which is often fatal. Symptoms can be confusion, altered mental state, loss of consciousness, seizures, and very high body temperatures. You should call for emergency care immediately if you see these signs and move the individual to a cool area. Find ways to the cool the individual with water, fans, or cold compresses while staying with them until emergency medical services arrive.

Central Valley Ag wants to ensure all its employees and member-owners know how to prevent heat stress and care for heat illness. Please beware of the threats that heat imposes and always remember what to do if you, or someone around you, starts having signs of heat illness.

All statistics in this article are provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.