JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
During the extreme temperatures and humidity of the summer, military personnel, their families, and anyone working outside become susceptible to heat related injuries.
“High temperature, high humidity and direct sun exposure are three factors that can contribute to heat related injuries occurring at a higher rate,” said John McLaughlin, an occupational safety specialist with the 37th Training Wing safety office.
McLaughlin advised anyone who’s out working in the heat to wear sunscreen, find shade, drink water and get familiar with the work rest cycles recommended by the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index, a tool used to prevent heat injuries.
The WBGT index is a heat stress indicator used to gauge the relative severity of environmental temperature on the human body by measuring humidity, wind speed, and sunlight and then compositing the information into an actual temperature experienced by personnel.
The index consists of five color-coded categories with associated temperature information derived from the WGBT and specifies fluid intake requirements and work allowed. Flags with corresponding colors are flown to indicate current heat and work conditions.
“Supervisors and subordinates alike should get to know the flag conditions and what actions those conditions call for,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin added that supervisors must be firm with their workers when it comes to taking adequate rest according to the flag conditions while working outdoors or in places without air conditioning, such as warehouses.
McLaughlin added that not drinking enough fluids is one of the biggest mistakes personnel can make.
“Staying hydrated is essential for preventing heat related injuries,” McLaughlin said. “Water is definitely the best thing you can drink while you’re out in the heat.
“People also need to understand how the medications they’re taking affect hydration,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of allergy medications and things like that dehydrate you, so you’ll have to intake a lot more fluids while taking these things.”
Caffeine and alcohol are also dangerous to use while working in the heat as both dehydrate the body said McLaughlin.
Failure to stay hydrated and take proper rest can lead to life threatening conditions such as heat stroke. As well as injuries such as heat exhaustion, sunburn and heat cramps, McLaughlin said.
“Heat exhaustion and heat stroke is a spectrum of injury that happens when we get out exercising in a hot and humid environment, such as Texas,” said Maj. Nathaniel Nye, a sports medicine element chief with the 559th Medical Group.
According to Nye and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention heat stroke symptoms include:
• High body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
• Hot, red, dry or moist skin
• Rapid and strong pulse
• Possible unconsciousness
Heat exhaustion is a less serious condition that can also still require first aid. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
• Heavy Sweating
• Cold or pale skin
• Fast, weak pulse
• Nausea or vomiting
Nye added heat exhaustion is relatively benign, however heat stroke is a true medical emergency. While true heat stroke is relatively uncommon, it can lead to brain damage, organ damage and even death.
“When your body temperature gets that high, over about 103 degrees, organs are literally cooking, cells get damaged and if the person is not cooled quickly there are a lot of bad outcomes,” Nye said.
If someone is suspected of having a heat-related injury, Nye suggests quickly getting the person into a shaded area, immersing them in cool water if possible, loosening their clothing and checking for signs of serious heat stress to see if professional medical attention is necessary.
Nye added that in an effort to prevent serious injuries in areas where heat stroke is likely to occur at JBSA-Lackland, such as places where Battlefield Airmen or security forces Airmen train, the 559th MDG installed ice machines and large tubs in case of heat-related emergencies, as ice water immersion is the best way to combat heat stroke.
“Looking out for your fellow workers is the biggest thing,” McLaughlin said. “People get out there and they don’t want to take that rest time because they just want to get the job done, but that’s very dangerous.”
For more information on occupational safety during the summer season, contact a local safety office at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-4543; JBSA-Lackland at 671-5028; and JBSA-Randolph at 652-1843. If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat related injury and is unresponsive, call 911.