Rising temperatures pose increased heat stress risk

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2022

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With historically high temperatures, staying safe while working outdoors is increasingly vital, particularly among vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, older employees and young children.

Women make up 35% of farmers in the U.S. As their roles on farms increase, it’s important to address the unique safety hazards women may face, Knesha Rose-Davison, AgriSafe Network’s public health program director, said in a recent webinar about women and heat stress.

During the webinar, Rose-Davison discussed the signs of heat stress, from less-severe symptoms, such as heat rash and heat cramps, to more severe ones, including heat syncope — fainting and dizziness, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. An individual’s body and metabolic rate can impact how well they process heat, she said.

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“We (women) are at increased risk of heat stress because of a higher percentage of body fat, as well as lower aerobic power,” she explained.

In addition, “if you are pregnant, you are more likely to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke sooner than a nonpregnant worker,” she said. “This is because your body must work harder to cool down both you and your baby.”

Pregnant women are at greater risk for dehydration, and effects from heat stress can lead to higher risk for birth defects or preterm birth.

Children are another group at increased risk for heat stress and are often present in rural, agricultural settings.

“Infants and young children really rely on others to keep them cool and hydrated when it’s hot outside,” Rose-Davison said. “They also sweat less and quickly produce more heat than adults … children do not adjust to environmental heat levels as quickly.”

She recommended keeping children under 6 months old out of the sun — particularly between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are most intense. Additionally, ensure babies stay hydrated with breast milk or formula.

When working outside in hot weather, farmers and farmworkers should wear a hat and light-colored clothing, stay hydrated by drinking about four cups of water every hour, and take breaks in shade or air conditioning every 15 to 30 minutes. For those new to working outdoors, start slow, and allow your body to acclimate to the heat.

“Implement a buddy system in which workers observe each other for signs and symptoms of physiological heat strain,” Rose-Davison advised.

Some symptoms of heat stress include red, blotchy skin; muscle pain and spasms; dizziness or lightheadedness; pale and cool skin; nausea; fever; and rapid breathing. If someone is experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stress, their life is in danger, and they should be taken to the hospital, she said.

For more information on the webinar, visit bit. ly/3yaQWOY.

For more information on farm safety topics, visit Virginia Farm Bureau’s Farm Safety website at vafb.com/ Safety.