Don’t Forget Heat Related Health Issues This Winter.
Safety article by Harold Hough
Can you suffer from heat exhaustion during the winter? In the words of Sarah Palin, “You Bettcha.” A miner can still suffer from heat related health issues in the middle of winter if not careful.
Although it is definitely easier to get a sun stroke in the middle of a Southwestern summer, heat related health issues can still occur at much lower temperatures. The reason is not due to the actual temperature outside as much as how your body reacts to it. For instance, if you work in an air conditioned office in Denver and then have to travel out to a mine in Arizona for a few weeks during the winter, the extra exertion and the higher outside temperatures make you suffer from heat exhaustion even though you were playing golf in higher temperatures during the summer a few months earlier.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few factors that can cause heat related health issues even during the winter.
What is your body acclimated to? Ever see those workers doing hard physical jobs in 100 degree plus weather? They aren’t supermen. Their bodies have just adjusted to the heat.
The same is true for everyone. Your body has tuned itself to certain temperatures and levels of exertion. When you move to a hot climate, your body over the first few weeks transfers fat away from the skin and toward internal organs. It also becomes more efficient with water use.
This isn’t as big a problem for the person who is already acclimated, but it can be a problem for those visiting the site on business.
During the winter, many of us lead more sedentary lives and our bodies get acclimated to colder temperatures, which means the body starts moving fat to just below the skin. If business calls us out to a mine in a warmer climate and our work requires more exertion, especially a lot of walking around the site in warmer temperatures, we could quickly get heat exhaustion, even if we haven’t had problems with the same temperature and level of exertion during the summer.
If you are planning a business trip to a mine in a warmer climate, don’t forget that your body needs to acclimate itself. If you aren’t going to stay long enough to acclimate, avoid heat and exertion. If you do intend to stay a few weeks, plan any strenuous activities later in the trip and be sure to moderate your activity so you don’t push your body too much too fast.
Drink water. It’s important to realize that a person doesn’t suffer from heat exhaustion because it’s too hot, but because their body has run out of cooling fluid – water. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s cooling system can’t get rid of the heat fast enough. This can result in dizziness, confusion, nausea, and headaches. The body needs water to produce the sweat needed to keep us cool. When the body runs out of water, it begins to overheat and internal organs begin to break down. If that isn’t treated, death can occur.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how much water the body needs to stay cool. Doctors say that the body can produce 2,000 to 5,000 kilocalories of heat per day and a quart of water can only eliminate 580 kilocalories of heat. And, if the temperature next to the skin is above the body’s temperature, the need for cooling increases dramatically. Consequently, if you are working hard and producing heat that is being trapped inside your heavy clothes, you can easily use up a lot of water during a workday.
Unfortunately, drinking your favorite soft drink doesn’t solve the problem. Experts recommend plain water or sports drinks like Gatorade. They note that drinks with alcohol or caffeine, actually increase urine flow and cut down on the amount of water available for sweating. They also recommend staying away from sports drinks too high in sugar because they slow water movement from the gut to the bloodstream. Flavorings are also important because plain water can get too boring and discourage drinking the amounts required.
Mines can also help their workers by making more water available. Traditional water fountains only give workers a few ounces of water when they need pints and quarts. Commercial bottles of water encourage workers to drink more water and lower the risk of heat exhaustion.
What are the conditions where you work and what are you wearing? The local weather report may seem cool, but your body may be working overtime to eliminate excess heat. Open pit walls act as reflectors of the sun and the miner who dressed warmly may be sweating under those layers of clothes. Worse yet, since it is cool outside, he may not want to use the air conditioner in the cab of the heavy equipment he is operating. The result of the warm clothing, open pit walls reflecting sun, and the warm equipment cab can be just as bad as asking a miner to jog across the mine site in the summer.
Have you had heat exhaustion problems in the past? One good reason to avoid heat exhaustion is because according to doctors, once a person has experienced heat problems, they are more likely to suffer from it. Consequently, if you have had problems in the past, you are more likely to suffer from it again, even if the circumstances aren’t as drastic. Of course, that is one really good reason to avoid heat exhaustion problems in the first place.
As much as you will try to avoid heat exhaustion, it may actually happen. If it does, it’s critical to act quickly in order to avoid serious problems.
The first signs of heat exhaustion are irritability, slowed reaction times, upset stomach, dizziness, weakness, a rise in temperature, and a pale or flushed complexion. Although the problem is relatively minor at this time, a person, with these problems can be a danger to themselves or others, especially around heavy equipment. They need to stop their work, take off excessive clothing, find a cool area, and drink some water.