Outdoor workers advised to minimize heat-related illnesses

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Often exposed to Virginia’s sweltering summers, farmers and other outdoor workers are encouraged to take precautions against heat-related illnesses.

“Farmers are frequently working in the hottest times of the day, and the immediate concerns are heatstroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration,” said Dr. Amy Johnson, a nurse practitioner with Centra Medical Group, farmer and Bedford County Farm Bureau president. “In the long term, we worry about sunburns and sun exposure leading to the risk of skin cancer.”

To protect skin from harmful rays that increase the risk of developing skin cancer, it’s recommended that outdoor workers wear long-sleeved clothing with built-in ultraviolet protection.

Workers also should wear wide-brimmed hats to protect against skin cancer on their ears, noses and necks, and sunglasses to protect against eye cancer.

Any exposed skin should be covered with sweat- and water-resistant sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and every 2 hours thereafter.

As well as providing UV protection, clothing and hats create a cooler environment for the body. In times of excess humidity, Johnson said it’s harder for the body to cool down, leading to increased risk for heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Symptoms of heat-related illnesses may include dizziness, nausea, headache, altered mental status, cool or cold skin and a lack of perspiration.

To prevent symptoms, workers should take regular breaks between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to cool down and rehydrate. In addition to drinking plenty of water, sports drinks can help replenish potassium and sodium lost through perspiration.

Most importantly, Johnson said, farmers and outdoor workers should have someone available to help in case of an emergency.

“It’s important to be cognizant of how others are acting and making sure everyone’s not dizzy or stumbling around,” Johnson said. “If you’re concerned somebody is having a heatstroke, the most important thing to do is to remove them from the heat, and get them into a cooler area.

“If you have the ability, cool them down with cool rags or ice packs. Place them in the groin, armpits and around the neck to cool them down quickly. Or, if they’re not responding well, call 911 to assist you and get them the help they need.”


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