The days are already getting a little shorter as we enter this late summer stretch, but for many across the United States, the temperatures are showing no hint of fall.

History was made in July when that became the hottest month on record for the country. During the month, the average temperature in Phoenix, Ariz., was 102.7°F. The heat continued into August, and last Friday, the governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency as oppressive heat caused a dangerous situation across much of the South. Now the northwestern part of the country is experiencing extreme heat, where Portland, Ore., reached a new record high for August of 108°F on Monday.

The intense heat does not stop most jobs from needing to be done, and agriculture is no exception. Unfortunately, many farming tasks require hours spent working outdoors in all weather conditions.

People working in hot weather face several health risks. Three conditions highlighted in a Michigan State University Extension article by assistant professor Zachariah Rutledge are heat stroke, rhabdomyolysis, and heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke occurs when an individual’s temperature regulating system fails, resulting in their body temperature rising above 104°F. Signs of heat stroke include confusion, slurred speech, seizures, and a loss of consciousness, Rutledge wrote. People with heat stroke may also stop sweating. He emphasized that heat stroke is a medical emergency that can result in death if not treated.

Rhabdomyolysis is heat-related muscle breakdown, and its symptoms are sore and weak muscles, muscle swelling, and dark urine. Known more commonly as rhabdo, it results from a combination of dehydration and overheating. Rutledge explained that heat is a catalyst for muscle breakdown, causing certain muscle components such as potassium to leak into the blood stream. The kidneys would typically remove these components through urination, but when a person does not consume enough fluids, the kidneys can’t dispose of the waste. This can lead to kidney failure and death.

Heat exhaustion happens when the body temperatures rises above 100.4°F and the person exhibits one or more of these symptoms: heavy sweating, thirst, irritability, dizziness, headaches, nausea, weakness, or confusion. Rutledge noted that heat exhaustion is typically not life threatening, but it can turn into heat stroke if not treated.

Employers can reduce health risks associated with extreme heat by doing the following:

Require employees to take breaks

  • Provide shade for employees during rest periods
  • Develop a heat illness prevention plan
  • Incorporate regular worksite illness monitoring into supervisors’ job duties

If an employee shows symptoms of health-related illness, intervention is necessary. Take the person to a cooler area, in a building with air conditioning or at least in the shade. Cool the employee immediately by removing outer layers of clothing and placing ice or cold, wet towels on the head, neck, abdomen, armpits, and groin. A cold water or ice bath is the best way to cool a person in an emergency.

Stay with a person affected by a heat related illness, as their condition can deteriorate rapidly. If in doubt about what to do, Rutledge said to call 911.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
August 17, 2023

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