Prevention of heat stress begins with education

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Prevention of heat stress is of great concern at Goodfellow Air Force Base during the summer months. Everyone, especially those not used to West Texas weather, could fall victim to heat stress -- prevention of heat stress starts with education.

Environmental conditions that increase the risk of heat stress are monitored by the Bioenvironmental Engineering office. This measurement is called the Wet Bulb/Globe Temperature, which determines the base flag condition. Results are reported to the 17th Training Wing Command Post, who in turn orders flag color postings. Flags are located at the Military Training Leaders' office, Bldg 3201 (across from the Commissary); along the troop walk next to Bldg 409, and at the running track adjacent to the Mathis Fitness Center, Bldg 140. Recent improvements to the Heat Stress Prevention Program include the command post updating the WBGT reading and flag condition and sending it as a banner on your computer screen.

Supervisors should become familiar with the governing directives on heat stress: Air Education and Training Command Instruction 48-101, Prevention of Heat Stress Disorders, and the Goodfellow Air Force Base supplement dated March 30, 2005. Air Education and Training Command Instruction 48-101 establishes flag conditions used to implement water intake requirements and limitations on work, training and exercise activities for training environments. The flag colors, by increasing severity, are White, Green, Yellow, Red, and Black.

At higher flag conditions, water intake requirements increase and outside activities may be limited or canceled. Guide cards on Work-Rest cycles for permanent party workers and students, as well as recommended water intakes, can be obtained by contacting BE at 654-3126. Specific questions on heat stress may be addressed to BE or Public Health at 654-3123 any time during normal duty hours.

The "heat load" of the body is caused by environmental factors and intensity of physical work. To balance this heat gain, the body relies on the cooling effect of sweat evaporating from your skin. Heavy clothing or environmental conditions that minimize evaporation (such as high humidity and little or no wind) can cause the core body temperature to rise because of insufficient cooling.

In order of increasing severity, heat stress illness includes: heat syncope (fainting), heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and progresses to heat stroke -- the life-threatening failure of the body's heat regulation system. Heat disorders may be recognized by the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, fever, dizziness, headache, fainting, lack of coordination, mental confusion, and abdominal or leg cramps. Severe symptoms such as convulsions or hot, red skin without sweat are indicators of an emergency condition.

While it is important to remain hydrated, water intake should not exceed 1½ quarts per hour or more than 12 quarts daily. Rapid ingestion of large amounts of water may lead to acute water intoxication (hyponatremia), recognized by weakness, convulsions and loss of consciousness caused by dilution of the bloodstream.

If you must work or exercise outdoors, learn to prevent heat stress. Make sure you are properly acclimatized to this environment - exposure to hot weather is the only way to acclimate to it. Eat a solid meal as part of a balanced diet. Wear light, loose fitting clothing if possible, especially at the neck and wrist, to allow air circulation. Use sun-blocking lotion to prevent sunburn. When exposed to the sun or other radiant heat source, consider wearing the least allowable amount of clothing. Avoid, if possible, dark colored clothing as they absorb more heat than light colored clothing. Supervisors should modify work schedules when possible so the heaviest work is done at night or in the coolest parts of the day.

Following these precautions will ensure the 17 TRW continues to accomplish the mission, and help maintain a healthy, fit fighting force at Goodfellow Air Force Base.