Innovating Safety: New Device Aims to Prevent Heat-Related Illness Among Outdoor Workers

Heat-related illness is a serious risk, especially for those working outdoors. Jorge Ortega, a landscaper in Florida, knows this all too well. “It’s a little bit harder to stay hydrated, and you have to keep on moving even though the sun is hitting you,” Ortega explains.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 1,000 people die from heat-related illnesses annually in the United States. To address this, researchers from Georgia Tech and Emory University have developed a new heat protection device aimed at reducing these numbers. Ortega is among the first to test this innovative technology.

“The idea is that it monitors the worker’s heart rate, their physical activity, respiration rate,” says Roxana Chicas, a researcher at Emory University. “The ultimate goal is we will be able to predict before a worker heads into heat stroke or heat exhaustion.” When the device detects early signs of heat exhaustion, it sends alerts to the worker and ideally to their co-workers and supervisors as well.

Chicas elaborates that the device has already been tested with construction workers and the next phase involves testing with farm workers. Key symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, muscle cramps, a fast or weak pulse, and dizziness. The aim is to provide timely alerts to prevent these symptoms from escalating into severe heat-related illnesses.

Chicas is deeply committed to this project. “I’m an immigrant. I’m from El Salvador. Many of the workers you see outdoors are workers of color. They are immigrants,” she says, emphasizing the importance of protecting vulnerable populations. “Heat waves are coming. Summer is here, and we all have to try and protect ourselves.”

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The researchers aim to roll out this life-saving technology for widespread use within the next three years, offering a promising solution to a persistent and deadly problem.

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