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Help NIH Beat the Heat - Follow These Steps for Safety and Energy Conservation

It is a typical summer in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metropolitan area, with extremely hot weather and high humidity. If you plan on being out in the summer heat (or even in some indoor locations), chances are you'll be exposed to higher temperatures and possibly intense sunlight. Heat is the #1 weather-related killer — more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lightning or any other weather events combined. Please take the time to read these tips and signs of heat-related illness to help protect yourself and others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offer a Heat and Health Tracker relevant to your zip code to better prepare you for extreme heat events. 

Pre-hydrate, Hydrate and Re-hydrate 
During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of activity level. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after activities and don't wait until you're thirsty to hydrate. Thirst is one sign of dehydration, while other signs include dry skin, dizziness, exhaustion, dry mouth, and urinating and sweating less than usual. Learn more about the causes and signs of dehydration. Warning:  Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect how you respond to heat. Check with your healthcare practitioner and read the labels on all medications. 

Ways to Stay Cool

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing when appropriate 
  • Limit direct exposure to the sun; wear a hat for extra protection 
  • Be especially vigilant if you have fair hair/skin 
  • Monitor those at high risk such as children, older adults, those working outside and with pre-existing medical conditions 

    Avoid/Reduce Strenuous Activity 

    When possible, strenuous activities should be reduced, eliminated or rescheduled to the coolest part of the day. Take regular breaks when exercising or engaging in physical activity on warm days. If you recognize that you or someone else is showing signs of a heat-related illness, stop the activity immediately, find a cool place to rest, hydrate and seek medical attention if necessary.   

    Working in the Heat 

    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) adds to your heat stress burden. This makes it even more important for you to focus on hydration and to recognize symptoms of heat stress before it becomes a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. Supervisors – make sure that employees working outdoors or in hot indoor environments have adequate means to hydrate themselves. Rotation in to and out of climate-controlled areas may need to be on a more frequent basis if heat conditions indicate. 

    Conserve Energy to Avoid Power Outages 

    In order to meet energy and cooling demands, utility providers, including our own NIH central utility plant, typically run near capacity. To reduce the threat of a power outage and lower energy consumption, we recommend all NIH employees follow a few easy steps to help decrease non-essential heat and energy sources during the summer months, particularly during this period of peak demand: 

  • Keep windows closed and shades lowered when possible  
  • Turn off lights, printers, copiers and other non-essential electronic devices when not in use, especially after normal work hours 
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator when possible 
  • Ensure that the low power/sleep mode feature is enabled on computers and monitors when not in use 
  • Refrain from using personal space heaters, especially during this period of peak energy use (space heaters are only allowed in NIH facilities when it is determined by the NIH Fire Marshal and the Office of Research Facilities that a temperature cannot be properly regulated by the building's heating/cooling system) 

    These simple practices help protect everyone, but particularly our areas of critical need, such as patient and animal care, critical research and computer data centers. These are good practices to follow regularly at work and home, but are especially helpful when energy consumption reaches peak levels. 

    ​For questions about beating the heat, contact your assigned Safety and Health Specialist or call the Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS), Technical Assistance Branch at 301-496-3353.