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Training and Education

The Heat is On, Stay Cool

In the last five years the U.S. Navy has recorded 698 instances of heat stress, two of which were fatal. Working or playing in hot weather can lead to illness or death if you're not prepared.

"To minimize the likelihood of heat-related illness, Sailors and civilians should familiarize themselves with the Heat Stress Index and avoid strenuous activity or the heaviest work during the hottest times of the day," said Capt. Paul J. DeMieri, M.D., the Naval Safety Center's Flight Surgeon. "They should hydrate frequently, about a cup of water every 15-to-20 minutes in extreme heat, and avoid consuming liquids with any caffeine or alcohol."

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the heat index takes into account both humidity and air temperature. The higher the heat index, the hotter the air temperature feels, since sweat does not evaporate and cool the skin. OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report that most common heat-related illnesses are heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat rash, and heat cramps.

"It's important to become familiar with signs of heat illness and know the basics of how to start treatment," DeMieri said.

Heat Exhaustion is a serious heat-related illness. Symptoms include elevated body temperature, decreased urine output, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and excessive sweating. If you notice these signs in a shipmate, take them to a medical clinic or dial 911. While you are waiting for medical personnel to arrive move the person to a cooler area and give them liquids to drink. Then remove all unnecessary clothing, place a cool compress on their head, neck and face, or have them wash their head, neck and face with cold water.

Heat Stroke is the most dangerous heat illness and can lead to death if not treated immediately. Symptoms of a heat stroke are elevated body temperature, confusion, seizures, hot and dry skin, or excessive sweating, or loss of consciousness. If you notice these symptoms in a shipmate, dial 911 immediately. Also, move the person to a cool area, wet them with cool water, place cold wet clothes or ice on their body, and stay with the person until help arrives.

DeMieri said it's important to take all heat illnesses seriously.

"Heat cramps are usually caused by exercise or heavy exertion in warm weather and most commonly affect localized muscle groups," he said. "They can be a precursor to more severe heat-related injury and can usually be managed with rest, decreased activity, and increased fluid intake."

Take the following steps to keep cool when working outdoors: drink water or sports drinks frequently, make sure to eat regular meals throughout the day, schedule frequent rest periods and create a buddy system so you and your shipmates can check on one another.