An Athletic Approach to Heat Illness

Today I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of four speakers at ASSE’s Safety 2017 that included *only* one safety professional!


The topic of heat illness has been high priority for many years, especially with specific guidance from Cal/OSHA on what employers are required to have in place. Though the majority of session attendees said that they do not work in California, nearly all attendees that have a written heat illness prevention program model their program after the Cal/OSHA Standard.

At the federal level, we have all heard and repeated the “water, rest, shade” message without much further study into the topic. The panel offered some points that were completely new to me, and had me frantically writing notes on the material as well as moderating the session!

  1. Per Gabrielle Giersch of the Korey Stringer Institute, the traditional heat stress and heat related illnesses we work to prevent are independent health conditions. Simply, heat stress is not a progression. (i.e.: heat cramps do not lead to heat exhaustion)
  2. Stacy Ingraham, Ph.D. and Professor of Exercise Science at Crown College in Saint Bonafacius, MN kicked off the discussion on personal risk factors. She explained that muscle fibers and overall body type play an important role in how the body response to heat stress.
  3. Rod Raymond, Elite Athlete and Master Trainer, brought up mindfulness and intention frequently. The short version is that workers should be educated on strategies they can use based on their individual body type.
  4. Joe Conrad, Manager of Safety & Training for Xcel Energy, explained that one of the best things a supervisor can do is to let people know what happens when they do not drink enough water or have insufficient access to shade.

A lot of conversation was centered on hydration and how to coach workers to forego caffeine and energy drinks. Ms. Ingraham noted that many energy drinks available in the United States are banned in other countries due to heart valve complications and other health concerns in children and adults.

Mr. Raymond offered some tips on encouraging workers to be proactive about hydration. His first piece of advices was to eat watery foods like fruits and vegetables. These types of foods are better for digestion and overall gut health. Mr. Raymond encouraged employers to provide practical education to workers about choosing healthy foods. To avoid the sugar cycle, he recommended a beverage recipe:

  1. Prepare hot peppermint tea and allow to cool overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. In the morning, add maple syrup and a dash of salt to the tea.
  3. Sip on this drink all day!

Mr. Conrad noted that there are many challenges with acclimatization and the ability to control the workers’ water and beverage intake. Due to the influence of personal risk factors, education of the workers is key so they can understand the impact of specific drinks on their body systems.

The panel session concluded slightly over the allotted time due to questions about hydration, nutrition, and acclimatization. The session was recorded by ASSE, so if you missed out on the live panel, you will have the ability to watch the video soon.



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