Tips for avoiding heat stress this summer

Despite the cool, wet start to the Iowa summer, heat and humidity are inevitable. An awareness about heat stress risks -- and strategies to address them -- literally can save a life, said Heather Simmons, an occupational safety specialist in the environmental health and safety department (EHS).

"Heat stress is preventable if you pay attention and take the right precautions," she said. "At the same time, if you don't, there can be serious repercussions."

Those precautions include staying hydrated, taking breaks more frequently, wearing loose and light-colored clothing, and learning to identify the symptoms of heat stress in yourself or your co-workers.

Simmons said when the heat index (a measurement of temperature and humidity) exceeds 85 degrees, employees with jobs in hot environments should take precautions. She noted that what can start out as fairly mild symptoms -- perspiring or a mild headache, for example -- becomes a problem when your body stops sweating and your skin become red, hot and dry. A National Weather Service poster on the EHS website distinguishes between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. A few strategies -- drinking water, finding shaded or air-conditioned space to cool the body -- can alleviate the former. The latter demands a call to 911 for medical aid.

Simmons identified these other awareness and prevention tools:

  • EHS website on heat stress
  • A new 15-minute online training, "Heat-related Illness," available through Learn@ISU (in environmental health and safety course offerings). ISU WellBeing Adventure 2 participants can earn 150 points for completing it.
  • Subsequent Adventure 2 challenges this summer
  • Free phone app (iPhone or Android) that uses local temperature and humidity to assess risk
  • Specialty bandanas and neck towels by Grainger in cyBUY to help keep your body cool

"Summer is a great time to be outdoors, either at work or at home," Simmons said. "If employees follow the prevention tips we've outlined, they'll be better prepared to keep themselves safe, whether working or playing in the heat."