JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Heat stress can leave people regularly involved in outdoor working environments or outdoor recreational activities in many various hot predicaments.
Exposure to high temperatures or extreme humidity can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes.
As part of the Air Force’s 2016 Summer Safety Campaign initiative that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend, Roy Gutierrez, 37th Training Wing occupational safety specialist, urges the public to stay hydrated and listen to their bodies when outdoors this summer during work or leisure.
“You should drink water in moderation before, during and after work or play,” he advised. “For people who work outdoors or in a heated environment, they need to breaks in shaded or air-conditioned environments to prevent heat injury situations.”
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, symptoms of heat stroke, which occurs when the body is incapable of controlling its temperature, include:
Heat stroke can develop as a result of heat exhaustion or heat cramps when the body’s response to excessive water and salt loss comes from sweating. Heat exhaustion is also a potentially dangerous condition and symptoms include:
Rapid heart beat
Acute weakness or fatigue
Nausea and vomiting
Fast and shallow breathing
Slightly elevated high temperature
Heat cramps can produce muscle cramps, pain or spasms in the abdominal area, arms and legs. Individuals showing any symptoms of heat stress should be moved indoors or into shade. If they are wearing outer garments, such as a uniform top, it should be removed to help cool the individual down, Gutierrez advised.
“If they are wearing vests, jackets, protective gear and hats, put them in the shade to cool their bodies,” he said. “If you can, get them in an air conditioned environment, fan them and use wet towels to cool their bodies and to restore their normal body temperature.”
If an individual shows signs of extreme heat stress, or removing them from the environment does not improve their symptoms, members are encouraged to call 911 or transport them to a nearby medical facility.
At Joint Base San Antonio locations, the bioenvironmental engineering flights assess heat stress conditions and dictate the appropriate flag conditions/heat category according to the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index. The WGBTI temperature is calculated by measuring air temperature, humidity, air speed and radiant heat. The results of these measurements are used to determine one of the following heat stress categories or flag conditions and JBSA members must adhere to these guidelines.
White Flag: The white flag is the lowest heat condition. It has no restrictions attached and allows strenuous activities without rest.
Green Flag: This condition is in effect between 80 and 84.9 degrees. This flag allows supervised heavy exercise outdoors with a 30-minute rest every half hour.
Yellow Flag: This condition is in effect when temperatures rise to 85 to 87.9 degrees. While under a yellow flag, the same 30/30 rest-work rule applies. However, personnel who are not acclimated to the area should refrain from these activities.
Red Flag: A red flag is raised when the temperature reaches 88 degrees. While in this condition, extreme caution should be used when working outdoors. After 20 minutes of work, a 40-minute rest should be taken.
Black Flag: When the WBGTI reaches 90 degrees, a black flag is in effect. While under black flag conditions, all non-essential outdoor physical exercise should be postponed.
Heat injury prevention is of high importance across JBSA, as South Texas temperatures remain well over 90 degrees during the summer season. Also due to the vigorous training mission at JBSA which includes Air Force Security Forces training, Air Force Basic Military Training, the Department of Defense Medical Education and Training Campus and several others, heat safety is paramount.
Supervisors are encouraged to stay educated on thermal injury signs and symptoms; first aid procedures; work and rest; work and warming cycles; additive effects of personal protective equipment; and the importance of proper hydration. Members can call the 37th TRW safety office at 671-3967 with any questions or concerns.