Author: V. Hauschild, Army Public Health Center
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is targeting occupational Heat Injury and Illness Prevention as part of their recent efforts to establish a universal standard to protect workers.
According to OSHA, “Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related phenomena, and it is becoming more dangerous as 18 of the last 19 years were the hottest on record.” OSHA tracks workers who develop medical conditions or die from excessive heat exposures, and describes those in construction and agriculture to be at highest risk. These medical conditions, referred to as heat illnesses or injuries, occur when the body is unable to compensate for increased body temperatures due to hot and humid environmental conditions and exertion.
Military personnel are also at risk, especially during outdoor training exercises that involve rigorous physical exertion. Physically intense military activities such as Basic Combat Training, field training exercises, and road marches over 8 kilometers are examples of high-risk activities. Physical training tests and running competitions are also risky events. Soldiers also usually must wear full uniforms, sometime with additional protective layers, and may carry heavy gear, which can further increase internal body temperatures. Severe cases can be life threatening. Even mild illnesses can mean a person is at greater risk during future heat exposures. “The most severe condition is heat stroke, which can be fatal if not treated immediately and properly, says Maj. Aeri Hodges, chief of Public Health Nursing at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, Fort Polk, Louisiana. She says though heat exhaustion is a less severe diagnosis, it could progress to heat stroke if the exposure is not stopped and the condition not treated.
The risk to Soldiers is highest when outdoor temperatures and humidity are high, which is the case at some of the Army installations where outdoor training occurs. Of the 43 Army installations tracked for the 2020 Health of the Force report, 10 experienced more than 100 heat risk days in 2019, mostly concentrated in the south and southeast U.S. Nearly 40 percent of active-duty Soldiers were stationed at one of these locations.