Be summer safe: Protect against heat caused illness while working around the farm

Health hazards due to summer sun and higher temperatures require attention to the details of working outdoors.

The summer of 2011 has hardly begun, yet the increased warmth of mid-summer has arrived for much of Michigan. Because farming is mainly an outdoor activity, those who participate in it run a greater risk of being impacted by heat related illness during the summer months.

Under normal circumstances, the body temperature is self-regulating. When the temperature rises, the body sheds heat, either through radiation, evaporation, convection or conduction. If one of those methods fails, the buildup of excess heat can begin a cascade of bodily reactions that range from heat rash to heat stroke and potentially lead to death. There are a number of factors which increase individual risk for a heat related illness. These include;

  • Age (both the elderly and infants are more susceptible to heat illnesses)
  • Health factors (those with circulatory or heart problems or are physically unfit or overweight)
  • The consumption of alcohol and/or drugs (including prescription drugs)
  • The acclimatization to working in the heat

To avoid heat-related injuries the following guidelines should be implemented when working in the heat:

  • Drink water periodically as you work—about every 15 minutes or so. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty!
  • Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks, as they cause the body to dehydrate faster.
  • Wear lightweight, loose clothing and light colors that reflect sunlight.
  • Save strenuous work for the cooler times of day, such as early morning or evening. Take periodic breaks in the shade—don’t push yourself.
  • Adjust gradually to working in the heat. No matter how young or how physically fit you are, you are still susceptible to heat illness.

Heat-related illnesses are usually avoidable by planning ahead and following through on a simple set of work guidelines. The alternative simply requires doing nothing.

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