Working in hot weather

With Europe, Africa, North America, parts of Asia and the Middle East struggling with heatwaves that have seen record temperatures soaring into the 40s, INSI has some advice for journalists working in hot weather.

General advice

The combination of heat and humidity means that sweat evaporates more slowly, and the body's natural cooling system does not work properly. In these conditions outdoor work becomes dangerous, even for those in good shape.

It takes around five days for most bodies to adapt to heat exposure in a natural environment. It may take up to 14 days to have complete acclimatisation.

  • To help with acclimatisation keep air conditioning to a minimum when you arrive. Drive with the window open.
  • Allow for frequent periods of rest and hydration. Drink before getting thirsty.
  • If you have a headache, a high pulse or shallow breathing, go inside and rest.
  • Diuretics and stimulants, including alcohol and caffeine, may increase the effects of heat including dehydration.
  • Wear sun screen and cover up with light coloured, cotton clothing and a hat.
  • Monitor the colour of your urine. If it is yellow, dark brown or smells you are dehydrated. Drink enough fluids to keep your urine a very light colour.

Treating heat cramps

You may experience painful cramping of the larger muscle groups in your legs, arms and abdomen. This could be caused by the excessive loss of salt through heavy sweating and/or several hours of sustained exertion.

  • Move the person to a shaded area.
  • Massage their arms/legs to increase circulation
  • Give them half a teaspoon of salt in one litre of water, a sports drink or salted food plus fluid. Make them sip the water or they may vomit.

Treating heat exhaustion (more serious)

Your temperature may increase to 99-104ºF (37-40ºC). You may experience heavy sweating, headaches, feel light-headed and nauseous, vomit and feel tingling sensations in your body.

Heat exhaustion is more likely after a few days of working in the heat, rather than on the first day. The best defence is to acclimatise after arriving, take it easy and drink plenty of water. Don't take salt tablets without consulting a physician. 

  • Get the person to a shaded environment and loosen clothing. Provide cold water, to be sipped in small amounts if vomiting.
  • Treat with half a teaspoon of salt in one litre of water, a sports drink or salted food plus fluid.
  • Apply active cooling measures such as a fan or ice towels.
  • Drink 1-2 litres of a carbohydrate beverage over 2-4 hours.
  • Visit a doctor, especially if nausea and vomiting are present.

Treating heatstroke (can be fatal)

In some extreme cases heat can upset the body's thermostat, causing body temperatures to rise to 105ºF (40ºC) or higher.

The person will be lethargic, disorientated, aggressive, confused and may lapse into unconsciousness. Even the suspicion that someone might be suffering from heatstroke requires immediate medical attention. 

  • Get them to a shaded area and remove as much clothing as possible.
  • Monitor their body temperature and lower it as quickly as possible with an ice bath if possible. Apply ice packs to the armpits, groin and neck.
  • Seek immediate medical help and continue cooling until it is received.

Image by AFP