I have worked indoors, outdoors, all day, all night, in any weather.
Recently, my employer required me to attend an industry wide safety seminar. A big chunk of that seminar was how to protect yourself from heat illness. I was given a list of Heat Illness Susceptibility Factors:
- Hot air temperature
- High relative humidity
- Physical activity
- Radiant heat from the sun or other source
- Personal protective equipment worn
- Lack of air movement
- A history of heat illness
- Insufficient water consumption
- Over/under weight
- Poor level of fitness
- Lack of acclimatization
- Poor medical condition
- Use of prescription and over the counter medications and other drugs
- Consumption of alcohol, caffeeine, carbonated drinks, energy drinks
- Advanced age, or a young age
- On a low salt diet
Does any of this sound familiar? Reenactors conduct strenuous physical activity while wearing mutiple layers of tightly fitted clothing and equipment under extremes of heat and humidity. Not only do we try to avoid it - we seek it out as a weekend activity!
Symptoms of Heat Illness
- Early heat illness signs and symptoms may not always follw a progressive pattern from a mild condition such as heat rash up to the life-threatening condition of heat stroke.
- Thirst alone is a poor indicator of how the body is reacting to heat.
- Know the symptoms of heat illness to watch for:
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle pain/cramps
- Altered behavior
- Blurry vision
- Lack of sweating or excessive sweating
- Poor concentration
Most of this list describes the Morning After Saturday Night - but it is no laughing matter. In the US, an average of 334 people a year die from heat illness.
A 26-year-old Houston firefighter trainee collapsed and later died of heat stroke after a 4.4-mile run in April 2009. Minnesota Vikings 6-foot-4, 335 pound offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heat stroke in 2001. The heat index that August day in Mankato, MN was near 110 degrees. Just six days prior to Stringer's death, a University of Florida freshman, Eraste Austin died after collapsing from heat stroke. 15 year old Max Gilpin collapsed after doing sprints in 94 degree heat with 32% humitdity. He was treated with ice packs and water. Even so, when he reached the hospital his body temperature was 107 degrees. He was in the hospital for three days before he died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and heat stroke.
This is a handful of examples out of literally hundreds. How many of us are as fit and conditioned as firefighters and football players?
Although dying from heat stroke is entirely authentic and period-correct, the Colonial National Historic Park management prefers that you be aware of the symptoms of heat illness, take aggressive preventive measures to prevent it, and know what to do if you see someone at risk.
Heat Illness Prevention
- Drink plenty of water.
- The average person loses between one and two quarts of fluid an hour in perspiration during heavy exertion in hot weather.
- The only way to replace the fluid loss (and help the body continue to cool itself) is to drink water.
- Don't wait until thirsty to drink water. Being thirsty is not a good signal for the need to hydrate.
- Drink water instead of soda. Avoid substituting soft drinks, coffee, or other drinks containing caffeine or sugar.
- Caused by a loss of fluids from sweating and/or a lack of drinking proper fluids.
- Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Cool or clammy skin
- Fast and weak pulse
- Know the nearest cool resting place.
- Get out of the sun or away from the source of heat and find a cool, preferably well ventilated resting place if you are starting to overheat or need to cool down.
- Wear light-colored, loose fitting, long-sleeved shirt, light-colored pants, UV sunglasses, and if appropriate, other protective equipment.
- Wear a wide brim hat (baseball caps do not cover the ears and neck.)
- Use sunscreen or sun block and reapply as needed.
- Eat light meals. Hot, heavy meals add heat to the body.
- A life-threatening emergency that occurs when the body overheats to a point where its temperature control system shuts down and heat builds up internally.
- The signs of impending heat stroke are altered behavior, convulsions, unconsciousness and, usually, lack of sweating.
- Should these symptoms occur, seek medical help immediately.
When someone is exhibiting symptoms of heat illness:
- Stop and get them into a shaded area that is open to the air or ventilation.
- If they are concious, encourge fluid intake.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Take immediate steps to cool the person such as using cool moist towels or douse the person with water to bring the body temperature down.
- Never leave a person with heat illness unattended.
Of course I offer grateful thanks to the authors of the Contract Services Administration Training Trust Fund "Course 'A2' Safety Training Course" for the safety text quoted above. The A2 course was calculated for modern industrial workers - not people whose idea of "light-colored, loose fitting" clothing is multiple layers of linen and wool under a dark wool coat, or several petticoats, a gown, and stays. Our idea of a wide-brimmed hat is usually cocked up on three sides - worthless for protection from the sun!