Avoiding heat-related injuries during the hot summer months



by Donovan Jackson
Air University Public Affairs


6/21/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Summer begins today, and along with the fun associated with the season, proper safety precautions should be met to help ensure that everyone remains cool, safe and injury free during the upcoming months.

The hottest months in Alabama are July and August, according to the 42nd Air Base Wing Safety Office. However, heat-related safety hazards can begin as early as May.

"Overexposure to the sun is the most common cause of heat-related injuries," said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Gibbs, chief of the safety office. "Injuries can range from minor things, such as sunburns and heat rash, and can progress to more severe injuries, such as fainting, light-headedness and heat exhaustion."

According to Gibbs, children and the elderly are the most susceptible to heat-related injuries.

Unlike adults, children sweat less and produce more heat when engaging in activities. To help prevent children from sustaining heat injuries, they should be closely supervised, regularly hydrated and have an adequate amount of sunblock applied to their skin prior to sun exposure.

People age 65 and older are more prone to heat stress for several reasons. For example, they do not adjust to sudden temperature changes as well as younger people. In addition, some of their prescription medicines may impair their ability to regulate body temperature, possibly affecting perspiration.

Elderly people can prevent heat-related injuries by drinking chilled nonalcoholic beverages, taking cool showers or baths, wearing lightweight clothing and not engaging in strenuous activities.

However, no age group is immune from heat-related injuries. Rushing into physical exercise in the heat without take proper precautions can quickly escalate into a heat-related mishap regardless of age.

"We've already had a number of heat-related injuries at Maxwell," said Gibbs. "Heat exhaustion has become relatively common because personnel are not properly assessing the weather conditions."

He recommended that runners evaluate their routes before engaging in exercise.

"Depending on the conditions, I can easily envision a worst case scenario here at Maxwell of an unprepared individual running on March Road on the less trafficked west side of the runway during peak heat hours, resulting in a critical situation," Gibbs said.

Helping to prevent possible injury, base personnel are notified of the wet bulb indicator of a yellow, red or black flag condition with associated rest-duty cycles through the AtHoc pop-ups display on their government computers.

Gibbs urges everyone to be safe so they can have an enjoyable summer.

"Please think before you act," he said. "Don't think that a heat-related injury can't happen to you."