Four Ways to Cool Down Heat Illness

A worker sits down on a work vehicle to cool down. They are wiping sweat off of their forehead.

July is Extreme Heat Awareness Month. One of the biggest hazards at this time of year is overheating. Outdoor and indoor heat exposure may cause heat-related illnesses and can lead to preventable fatalities. This means that mine workers, from heavy equipment operators to blasting experts, working on surface mines or underground mines, are all at risk of heat-related illnesses.

High air temperatures, humidity and low wind combined with the heat produced from machinery will make it harder to cool down. Any heat stress illness or injury must be reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to meet 30 CFR Part 50.20 requirements. In 2022, 37 incidents of heat-related illness were reported to MSHA. In many of these situations, miners were dehydrated and felt dizzy and nauseous before receiving medical treatment at a hospital.

Heat illnesses or injuries happen when the body is not able to cool itself. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, during extreme heat, sweating may not be enough. When your body temperature rises to a point where it can’t cool down, it can lead to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical attention to prevent damage to your brain and vital organs.  

A miner may first feel symptoms like thirst and a heat rash. If your mind is focused on working, you may not be aware of your health condition until you are dizzy and then collapse. 

Heat-related injuries and fatalities are preventable. Here are four ways to keep cool when you are working in a hot environment:

  • Hydrate. Drink before you feel thirsty. Being hydrated when you start work makes it easier to stay hydrated through the day.
  • Rest. Take enough time to give your body time to cool.
  • Find shade. Take breaks in a shady or cool area.
  • Wear personal protective gear. Clothing should be loose fitting and “wick” wetness away from your body. Ice vests, cooling neck wraps, and wetted clothing are effective at lowering your body temperature when they can safely be worn while working.

Jeffrey Cook is a mine safety and health specialist in the Health Division of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.