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Heat Stress and Heat-Induced Illnesses

By Jason Jantzi, Risk Management Consultant – Fire | | 503-559-0389 or 800-285-5461

Even though it may not look like it, summer is fast approaching and now is the time to consider heat-related illnesses and how your district will address them. As your activity levels ramp up, the hazards associated with heat-related illnesses become a significant issue for workers.

In my conversations with Oregon OSHA, they have reminded me that the Program Directive PD-299 Preventing Heat Related Illness goes into effect on Monday, June 15, 2020. That means that when they are reviewing accidents and complaints/referrals, they will be considering those issues through the lens of heat-related illness.

At times, the symptoms of heat stress don’t always present in obvious ways and often are mistaken as other medical issues. This is a good time to remind all districts that employers in Oregon have the responsibility to manage the safety and health of their workers, and since it is an emphasis program, OSHA will be taking a deeper look into the issue of heat stress. For more information about what you can do, visit the Oregon OSHA Heat Stress Topic Page.

Rhabdomyolysis is a serious health condition that often is correlated with heat-related illness. Due to the physical nature of their job, stresses on their bodies, and the excessive heat they are exposed to, rhabdomyolysis is more common among firefighters (structural/wildland). I am personally aware of three firefighters in the past two years who have been diagnosed with this ailment. Although there is a higher frequency rate with firefighters, especially new recruits, this health condition can affect all workers in all types of districts.

What are the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis?

  • Muscle aches or pains out of proportion with the amount of exercise done
  • Muscle weakness and cramping
  • Tea-colored or cola-colored urine
  • Reduced or no urine output
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Fever

What can you do?

  • Educate all employees about the signs, symptoms, and dangers of heat-related illness and rhabdomyolysis
  • Conduct physically demanding activities during cooler parts of the day
  • Drink plenty of fluids and take rest breaks as needed
  • Tell your supervisor immediately if you or a co-worker is experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness or rhabdomyolysis
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your job and your increased risk for rhabdomyolysis

Please find the following Hazard Alert on the subject.