Knowing the dangers of heat illness could save your life


By Dave

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Definitions for a heat wave vary, depending of which circle of doctors, scientists or policy makers you ask. The one thing that is unmistakable is prolonged periods of exposure to extreme heat and often humidity is dangerous.

Statistics from The National Weather Service reflect that heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.

When the temperatures rise, we tend to think about children, the elderly and even athletes, but often ignore the outdoor workers who are at the mercy of the weather every day. Each year, thousands of workers fall ill while working outdoors in the heat. Some even die.

Workers who are outside, like construction workers, farm workers, landscapers, roofers, baggage handlers and others face some brutal conditions out there, conditions that can do far more damage than just make us uncomfortable.

"If you're an employer of outdoor workers, I urge you to take today's heat warnings very seriously and understand that you have a responsibility to keep workers safe," said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.{}"That means providing workers regular access to water so they can stay hydrated. It means scheduling regular break periods in the shade or indoors. It means training workers on the signs of heat illness, and what to do if they see a co-worker showing signs of dehydration or heat stroke."{}

High heat can cause body temperatures to rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death.{}

Here are some things to think about when working outdoors in extreme heat:

1)Seek shade and take breaks often.

2)Drink water, even if you aren't thirsty.

3)Become familiar with the symptoms of heat illness.

4)Look out for each other.

5)Call 911 if someone appears to be getting sick from heat.

For more information about heat related dangers, visit The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's national outreach initiative at:

* Dave Williams received a B.S. in atmospheric science from The Ohio State University. Before joining ABC News 4, Dave was just up the road at WBTW in Myrtle Beach. Armed with a wealth of experience forecasting the weather in the Palmetto State, Dave is a member of the National Weather Association, American Meteorological Society, and holds a Seal of Approval from the NWA.