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3 little words outdoor workers should know: Water, rest, shade p3

T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but football players would argue that August is worse. August is when professional and college football teams begin to train for the upcoming season. They don their safety equipment and exert themselves in sometimes unbearable heat and humidity. Since the death of pro football player Korey Stringer from heat stroke in 2001, teams have been more careful, but with any outdoor physical activity there is always the risk.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the most severe heat-related illnesses, but there are other maladies, other warning signs for anyone working or playing in the heat. For example, when we sweat, we lose both fluid and body salt. Lose too much, and you could experience heat cramps. Water or sports drinks will help here, as a cure and as a defense (every 15 to 20 minutes).

Anyone who has cared for a baby in the summer knows what heat rash is. Workers suffer from heat rash just as easily. The rash, a cluster of small, red blisters, is caused by sweat and develops where sweat collects: elbow creases, the neck, groin or upper chest, for example. The best cure is to get out of the heat and humidity. Keep the affected area cool and dry (powder is a good choice), and do not use any product that warms the skin or makes the skin moist. Creams and ointments actually make heat rash worse.

Some types of work are more prone to heat-related illnesses. We mentioned road construction and professional football, but workers don't need to be outdoors to be hot. Workers and their employers should be especially aware of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other conditions in work environments that are hot and humid with little air movement.

To mitigate the effects of the heat, workers should be given regular breaks to cool off and should regularly drink plenty of fluids. Without compromising their safety, workers should shed heavy equipment and protective gear. Workers should limit physical exertion, as well.

And everyone should remember those three little words: Water, rest and shade. Lives depend on it.

Source: Occupational Health and Safety Administration, "Protecting Workers from the Effects of Heat," accessed July 2015

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