Working in the summer heat? Take time to chill!

June 18, 2019 12:55 PM
Blog Post

Summer has arrived, and temperatures are heating up. Agricultural and natural resource workers endure long days spent outdoors or running field days. Summer outdoor activities are in full force for many including festivals, fairs, sports, farmer’s markets and much more! Time spent outside in the heat, humidity, and blazing sun does not go without risk. It is easy to overheat while doing all those fun activities in the summer heat, but some don’t recognize how quickly the heat can overpower you. Be weather aware and pay attention to these signs of heat related illness.

What is extreme heat?

The National Weather Service will issue a heat-related weather advisory for your county if it is expected to hit one of the following criteria:

  • Excessive Heat Outlook: an excessive heat event is expected to occur within the next 3-7 days
  • Heat Advisory: maximum heat index is expected to be at least 100 F for at least 2 days, with overnight lows at or above 75 F (can change based on region in the US) – issued 12 hours before the event
  • Excessive Heat Watch: an extreme heat event is expected within the next 2-3 days
  • Excessive Heat Warning: maximum heat index is expected to be at least 105 F for at least 2 days, with overnight lows at or above 75 F (can change based on region in the US) – issued 12 hours before the event

However, just because a heat-related advisory has not been issued does not mean that caution is not needed on your part. Figure 1 shows how it can “feel” much hotter outside than it actually is when the humidity is high, which increases the likelihood of a heat-related illness. The NWS provides a heat index calculator and a more-comprehensive heat index chart which are good references.


Figure 1: National Weather Service Heat Index Chart (Source: NWS/NOAA)

Do I have a heat-related illness?

The American Red Cross provides a list of the symptoms of heat-related illness and how to treat a person who is experiencing a heat-related illness:

  • Heat Exhaustion
    • Pale clammy skin
    • Heavy sweating
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Weakness/Fatigue
    • Treatment: move to a cooler spot, use damp towels, hydrate with water and electrolytes (half a glass every 15 minutes) – call 911 if the person is vomiting or loses consciousness
  • Heat Stroke
    • Red, hot skin
    • In and out of consciousness
    • Vomiting
    • High body temperature
    • Treatment: Call 911 immediately, move to a cool place and immerse in water or soak with water as much as possible

I forgot my sunscreen…

The summer sun and UV rays are strongest during the summer months in Iowa. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin! If you choose not to wear sunscreen, or simply forget to put it on (which I am guilty of on several occasions), you can expect to get a sunburn. (Figure 2) can be painful and may lead to skin-related illnesses, especially if they are severe or you get them in the same spot frequently.


Figure 2: A case of severe sunburn. This is why you need sunscreen! (Source: NWS/NOAA)

  • Signs & Symptoms
    • Red, painful skin – peeling and itching after a few days
    • If severe – blisters, swelling, flu-like symptoms
  • Treatment
    • Cold compress
    • Ointment (help with the stinging feeling)
    • Ibuprofen (for swelling and pain)
    • Stay hydrated
  • Prevention
    • Wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days
      • Apply 30 minutes before going outside, then reapply every 2 hours
    • Avoid direct sun if possible
    • Wear the right clothes
      • Wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and pants, sunglasses

How can I beat the heat?

Dealing with hot, oppressive days during the summer months is inevitable, but enjoy your summer activities or work safely by recognizing the risks of heat-related illness. The American Red Cross has put together a list of 10 easy-to-follow steps for staying safe in summer heat:

  1. Never leave a pet or child in a car during the summer
  2. Stay hydrated
  3. Check on those you know who don’t have AC
  4. Move to an AC location
  5. Try to avoid extreme temperature changes (frequently going from a building with AC to an area with none)
  6. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
  7. Avoid exercise during peak heating hours of the day
  8. Postpone outdoor activities if possible
  9. Take frequent breaks when working in the heat
  10. Check on pets and livestock frequently – make sure they have shade and sufficient water supply

Work or play, be sure to take these necessary precautions so you can enjoy your time outside this summer!

Sources

American Red Cross, 2018. Ten Tips for Staying Safe in the Summer Heat. Online: https://www.redcross.org/local/dakotas/about-us/news-and-events/news/ten-tips-for-staying-safe-in-the-summer-heat.html. Accessed June 17, 2019.

National Weather Service, ND. Heat Safety Tips and Resources. Online: https://www.weather.gov/safety/heat. Accessed June 17, 2019.

WebMD, ND. Sunburn. Online: https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/sunburn#1. Accessed June 17, 2019.

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Authors: 

Danielle Clark (Wilson) Assistant Scientist I

My role: Coordinate the research activities of the Crop Production & Physiology lab group. Provide research support and training to faculty, staff, and graduate students who require the use of the shared equipment and facili...