NORFOLK - Now that we are two-thirds of the way through “101 Critical Days of Summer,” and much of the country bears through extreme heat conditions, the Naval Safety Center would like to remind you be smart about the heat. Whether you are deployed, in port, or off duty, Sailors must be mindful of the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illness at all times.
On an aircraft carrier deployed to the Arabian Gulf, the heat index can easily reach upward of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Surrounded by water, it can feel impossible for flight-deck Sailors to escape the scorching sun. Many shipboard spaces contain environments of high heat and humidity, including engineering spaces, galleys, sculleries, laundries and weather decks in hot climates, especially during flight-deck operations, exercises and drills.
Heat stress can affect anyone under the right conditions. By definition, heat stress is any combination of work, airflow, humidity, air temperature, thermal radiation or internal body condition that strains the body as it tries to regulate its temperature.
Controlling heat stress is important for mission readiness and other functions aboard ships and combat vehicles, particularly with those tasks that demand mental attentiveness. Significant heat exposure can increase shipboard manning requirements in specific locations and during operations by a factor of three. The ability to do physical work in hot environments decreases, and there is an increased need to make personnel substitutions.
Heat stress can occur anywhere under the right conditions. Sustained high temperatures leading to heat stress conditions can lower work performance and morale and impair mental alertness, increasing the risk of workplace accidents, affecting the readiness of the command. Severe heat stress can lead to heat-related illnesses, disabilities, and even death. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash are conditions you should know and be able to recognize when they occur.
Heat stroke, the most serious health problem for people working in the heat, is not very common. Heat stroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body cannot release enough excess heat. Victims will die unless they receive proper treatment promptly. Signs and symptoms include mental confusion, delirium, fainting, seizures, body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and hot, dry skin that is usually red or bluish in color. Call for medical assistance immediately and request an ambulance, move the victim to a cool area, soak the victim with cool water, and fan the victim vigorously to increase cooling.
Heat exhaustion happens when a person sweats a lot and does not drink enough fluids or take in enough salt, or both. The signs and symptoms include feeling weak, tired or giddy, nausea, normal or slightly high body temperature, pale, clammy skin (sometimes flushed). In the event of heat exhaustion, rest in a cool place, drink a sports drink containing an electrolyte, and avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol. In severe cases involving vomiting or fainting, call for medical assistance, and have the person taken to a medical facility.
Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms. They occur when a person drinks a lot of water, but the body does not replace salts lost from sweating. Tired muscles are most likely to experience cramps. Signs and symptoms include cramping or spasms of muscles that occur during or after work. Drink a sports drink with electrolyte, and if the cramps are severe or not relieved, seek medical attention.
Heat rash, also called prickly heat, may occur in hot and humid environments where sweat cannot evaporate easily. When the rash covers a large area, it can become very uncomfortable. Heat rash treatment includes resting in a cool place and allowing the skin to dry. The signs and symptoms include a rash of small pink or red bumps, itching, irritation, or prickly sensation. Keep skin clean and dry to prevent infection, wear loose cotton clothing, take cool baths, and seek relief in a place with air conditioning.
Remember to always drink plenty of different fluids throughout the day and take breaks when working in the heat. If something does not seem right, take a break, and seek medical attention if your condition does not improve. Look out for early signs of heat stress and recognize the signs of other heat-related illness in others. Knowing the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses and taking precautions to avoid them will help “beat the heat” and could potentially save a life.