Ways to manage a crew member suffering from heat stress
Seafarers are most susceptible to heat stress when working in engine rooms or unsheltered decks. Patients may not be aware they are struck; despite symptoms such as profuse perspiring and dizziness which are often dismissed. However, steps can be taken to prevent or minimise aggravation if someone onboard suffers from heat stress.
Types of Heat Stress
There are three types of heat stress; heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Varying in different degrees, each has its own set of symptoms. The following is how you can identify the conditions, and take the necessary steps to manage.
1) Heat cramps
Heat cramps are painful and severe muscle spasms, primarily in the extremities and abdominal wall. Patients may perspire profusely and suffer dizziness. Treat by moving the victim to a cool place and begin the re-hydration process. Do not keep the victim sedentary under direct heat.
2) Heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is peripheral vascular due to excessive water and salt depletion. It is caused by failure to replenish fluids lost in perspiration. Symptoms include sweaty and pale or flushed, cool, clammy skin; fatigue; headache and possible dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting.
Patients should be placed in a cool place; loosened clothes, applied cool compress, slowly reintroduced fluids and be monitored for symptoms of shock. Seek advanced medical assistance immediately for further assessment and treatment.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires advanced prompt treatment. It is the result of the thermal regulatory mechanism’s collapse; the body’s ability to cool itself. The patient’s body temperature rises to critical levels of 40°C, peaking at 42°C (104°F to 108°F). Symptoms include ceasing to perspire; hot, dry skin; red or molten skin; core body temp > 104Â°F; confusion; loss of consciousness; and convulsions.
Treat by calling emergency medical services, moving the victim to a cool area while waiting for transportation to the hospital, using cool water to soak clothes and body, and fanning the person. Do not give fluids if the victim is unconscious.
How to prevent heat stress onboard
- Drink moderate amounts of water frequently.
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF level of 15 or higher.
- Covers shall be worn while outdoors in accordance with uniform regulations.
- Do not rely on electro replenishment fluids such as Gatorade as a sole source of hydration, and avoid caffeinated energy drinks
- Establish a schedule for work and rest periods during hot days.
- Avoid placing “high risk” crew members in hot work environments for extended periods
The victim often overlooks the signs of heat stress. If you suspect a fellow crew member to be suffering from heat stress, move the victim to a cool, shaded area, give him or her water. Contact a supervisor or another individual immediately to provide assistance.