When working in hot temperatures, seafarers need to be aware of the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke, also called sun stroke, is a type of severe heat illness that results in great body temperature. In such occasions, the body loses its ability to keep a balance between the heat entering the body and the heat leaving the body. On board ship, seafarers most at risk are those working in the engine room or on deck in the sun, in engine rooms and other confined spaces or participating in fire-fighting exercises in fireman’s outfit.
How to prevent heat stroke
- Drink plenty of water containing salt before, during, and after exposure to heat (at least 400–500 ml every 20 minutes during exposure)
- Stay as little as possible in a hot, high-risk environment (take a 15-minute break for every hour of exposure)
- Be especially wary when crew are working in warm or hot conditions wearing heavy clothing
A seafarer suffering from heat stroke may become mentally confused, delirious, perhaps in convulsions, or unconscious.
Signs and symptoms
- Core (internal) body temperature over 40.5 ºC as a result of heat load from the environment
- Oral and axillary (armpit) temperatures are slightly lower than the core temperature
- Altered mental function, possibly with: aggression, confusion, delirium
- Skin warm and pink, and typically dry, although if heat stroke has developed rapidly
- The skin may be moist from sweat
- Rapid pulse rate
- Rapid respiratory rate
- Dry cough in some cases
First aid should be immediately administered. This includes removing the victim to a cool area, thoroughly soaking the clothing with water, and vigorously fanning the body to increase cooling. Further treatment at a medical facility should be directed to the continuation of the cooling process and the monitoring of complications which often accompany the heat stroke. Early treatment of heat stroke offer means of preventing permanent brain damage or death.
- Move seafarer into a cool environment.
- Remove all the seafarer’s clothing.
- Spray or splash the seafarer’s whole body with cold water and fan him vigorously, or immerse him in a bath of cold water.
- Seek medical advice with a view to evacuation: even if body temperature is brought under control, heat stroke can cause life-threatening damage to internal organs.
- If body temperature does not fall below 39 ºC within 30 minutes, place the seafarer in an ice-water bath. Take the seafarer out of the bath as soon as rectal temperature has fallen to 39 ºC.
X Do not give anti-pyretic (anti-fever) medicines, such as aspirin or paracetamol: they will not help and may worsen the damage heat stroke can cause to internal organs.
X Do not leave the patient unattended in a bath.
In very hot conditions, seafarers should wear protective clothing that ensures the free circulation of air to allow evaporation of sweat and drink plenty of water. However, a seafarer may become acclimatized to working in hot conditions by gradual exposure to such work. The initial acclimatization can take 1-2 weeks while full acclimatization requires exposure to working in hot conditions 3-4 times a week for at least four weeks.