Don’t be a victim: Prevent heat stress

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amanda Vasquez-Lloret
  • 4th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
U.S. Marine Cpl. Alexis Aaron Alcaraz, fell out of a unit hump at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Officials concluded that he died of heat stroke during a six-mile hike last summer. The question that arose; is whether this incident could have been prevented with adequate heat stress awareness training?  

Air Force personnel perform unique functions that could have negative effects on their health without taking proper preventative medicine precautions. Certain occupations can be at a particularly high risk for heat-related injuries. Heat-related injuries are a significant threat to the health and operational effectiveness of military members and their units. Based on a 2015 publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, there were 417 cases of heat stroke (the most serious of the heat illnesses caused by overheating) and 1,933 cases of “other heat injury” among active component service members. In North Carolina, individuals ages 19-45 often visit emergency departments for occupational heat-related illness. Therefore, it is especially relevant for us to know how to prevent heat stress illnesses and injuries since we have several weeks of hot weather ahead here at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.  

Throughout the summer months, the 4th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight monitors the risk of thermal injuries with the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). The WBGT measurement takes into account humidity, air temperature, work load, clothing type, and radiant heat effects.  With this information, bioenvironmental engineers determine the appropriate heat stress risk flag colors and develop a work/rest cycle recommendation for base workers.  The work/rest cycle is intended for those who are involved in outdoor work, such as flight line personnel and civil engineers. These work cycles are recommendations only, and actual work schedule decisions remain in the hands of commanders and shop supervisors.

To prevent heat stress, it is important to adapt the wingman concept and watch yourself and others for the signs of headaches, dizziness, nausea, profuse or decreased sweating, cramps, convulsions, confusion, fast heartbeat, weakness, and red, hot, dry skin.  Seek medical attention if you or your Airmen develop these types of symptoms.  Remember to drink water even if you are not thirsty and rest in cool, shaded environments.  Don’t be a victim!  Heat-related injuries are preventable. For more information on WBGT or work/rest cycles, contact bioenvironmental engineering at 919-722-5401.