May 4, 2023 | Susan Napier-Sewell

How far away is death? Heat stress, a silent killer

heat stress

Heat stress is known as a  “silent killer.”

In the sweltering heat of summertime, temperatures can reach unsafe levels, with heat waves spiking in different parts of the globe, and heat stress is a real thing, according to

Our friends at OPEX remind us, “Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year and even more heat-related illnesses.”

When the human body is exposed to more heat than it can process, heat stroke and heat exhaustion can intensify rapidly. The National Safety Council (NSC) provides these guidelines to help avoid a heat-related catastrophe:

Heat Exhaustion

When the body loses excessive water and salt, usually due to sweating, heat exhaustion can occur. According to the free NSC First Aid Quick Reference app, signs and symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Pale, ashen, or moist skin
  • Muscle cramps (especially for those working or exercising outdoors in high temperatures)
  • Fatigue, weakness, or exhaustion
  • Headache, dizziness, or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate

Uncontrolled heat exhaustion or heat stress can evolve into heat stroke, so make sure to treat victims quickly:

  • Move victims to a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Give water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Apply wet towels, or have victims take a cool shower

Heat Stroke

Seek medical help immediately if someone is suffering from heat stroke. Signs include:

  • Body temperature above 103 degrees
  • Skin that is flushed, dry, and hot to the touch; sweating has usually stopped
  • Rapid breathing
  • Headache, dizziness, confusion, or other signs of altered mental status
  • Irrational or belligerent behavior
  • Convulsions or unresponsiveness

Immediately take action:

  • Call 911
  • Move the victim to a cool place
  • Remove unnecessary clothing
  • Immediately cool the victim, preferably by immersing up to the neck in cold water (with the help of a second rescuer)
  • If immersion in cold water is not possible, place the victim in a cold shower or move to a cool area and cover as much of the body as possible with cold, wet towels
  • Keep cooling until body temperature drops to 101 degrees
  • Monitor the victim’s breathing and be ready to give CPR if needed


  • Force the victim to drink liquids
  • Apply rubbing alcohol to the skin
  • Allow victims to take pain relievers or salt tablets

The best way to avoid heat stress or a heat-related illness is to limit exposure outdoors during hot days.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Air-conditioning is the best way to cool off
  • Drink fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty, and avoid alcohol
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing and a hat
  • Replace salt lost from sweating by drinking fruit juice or sports drinks
  • Avoid spending time outdoors during the hottest part of the day, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Wear sunscreen; sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool itself
  • Pace yourself when you run or otherwise exert your body

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends trying carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks to further the avoidance of heat cramps that can occur up to several hours after working.

Keep each other safe to avoid heat stress or heat stroke

If your job requires you to work outside in hot weather, you and your supervisors can take precautions to minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends:

  • Working shorter shifts until workers have adjusted to the heat
  • Staying hydrated and drinking before you get thirsty
  • Watch out for coworkers exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • Take time to rest and cool down

A safety app with real-time heat indexes

Here’s something that may help you and others stay safe during the temperature-soaring, dog days of summer: A safety app that displays real-time heat indexes, heart rates, and hourly forecasts. All are specific to the location of the user. Team members’ health may be monitored by supervisors using the tool. Employees at URS|CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR) “piloted a telemetric heart rate monitoring system to complement its heat stress controls. While full coverage personal protective equipment and suits safeguard workers from contamination, they also add to heat stress on workers and make it more difficult to conduct physiological monitoring.”

Equipped with a chest strap heart rate sensor that operates with a tablet, the heat safety app has gained a robust performance record with police and fire departments, military, and major sports teams, as well as being a good fit for UCOR’s “‘industrial athletes’ who work in challenging cleanup environments.”

The TapRooT® System trains you to solve problems

Circumstances can crop up anywhere at any time if proper and safe sequence and procedures are not planned and followed. The TapRooT® System teaches you to be an effective problem-solver. The System is a process with techniques to investigate, analyze, and develop corrective actions to solve problems. The TapRooT® process and tools are completely described in the TapRooT® Investigation Esssentials Book.

TapRooT® has a team of investigators and instructors with years of extensive training ready to offer assistance worldwide. We also offer ongoing support to our clients through free newsletters and root cause tip videos, the root cause analysis blog, and our annual Global TapRooT® Summit.

Sign up for a TapRooT® course

TapRooT® courses are taught all over the world; if you are interested in learning how to stop repeat incidents, find a 2-Day or 5-Day course here. Or, we are available to train you and your staff on-site at your workplace; reach out here to discuss your needs. Call us at 865.539.2139 for any questions you may have.

Content sources/credit: DOE OPEXshare, “A Hot Topic: Preventing and Recognizing Heat-Related Illnesses.”, “Heat Safety Tips and Resources.”

How Far Away Is Death?
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