MAY 1 – 7: National Summer Safety Week

National Summer Safety Week is May 1 – 7 and, this is a reminder to Canadians about the impact that a hot day can have on the interior cabin of a vehicle and the perils of heat-related conditions, and specifically to emphasize the fast onset and deadly nature of heat stroke.

A hot day can have on the interior cabin of a vehicle and the perils of heat-related conditions, and specifically to emphasize the fast onset and deadly nature of heat stroke.

At an ambient temperature of 35 °C, it takes only 10 minutes parked in the sun for the vehicle’s internal temperature to rise by 10 degrees. In the span of one hour, that same vehicle’s internal temperature spikes to 59 degrees. This issue is only exacerbated when we consider that young children are frequently victims of these circumstances — while the human body is able to regulate its internal temperature through sweating, infants and younger children do not yet have fully formed body cooling systems and are affected by the sudden rise in heat even more so than their adult counterparts.

Most often, these fatalities are accidental. The American-based states that 56 per cent of all child hot car deaths were a result of being unknowingly left in the vehicle, while an additional 26 per cent of children gained access to the vehicle on their own. Often, incidents like these occur due to simple forgetfulness owing to the child not being in the parent or guardian’s line of sight. As such, it is important to take deliberate steps to ensure an accident like this will not happen on your watch. Get into the habit of leaving an item you cannot do without — a wallet, a cell phone, a scan card — in the back seat with your child. A common aggravating factor lies in a change of routine. A parent or guardian who is used to leaving home and heading straight for work may forget that it is their day to leave their child at daycare, for instance. Lapses in memory can happen too easily in such circumstances, though apps exist that can send a reminder to your phone to check the backseat once you’re out of range of your vehicle’s Bluetooth system.

Planning around a hot day or a heat wave should always be done proactively. The most effective way to prevent heat illness is with preparation ahead of time. Monitor the weather forecast and, on especially warm days, consider postponing outdoor activities until the temperature has cooled down. You can also plan around the heat by choosing to do your activity in a cool, shaded area and by limiting duration and intensity. A priority on hot days should also be to stay hydrated at all times. Drink water before you’re thirsty. Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol, as these have dehydrating effects that can contribute to heat illness. Additionally, ensure that you’re wearing lightweight and loose-fitting clothing to ensure airflow and effective cooling through sweat. A wide-brimmed hat can also be effective in shielding you from the sun’s powerful beams overhead. Before heat stroke sets in, someone who has been overexposed to the heat may show signs of heat exhaustion. This typically happens due to excessive sweating which leads to a loss of water, causing dehydration. It can present itself through a variety of symptoms including, but not limited to: 

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Extreme thirst
  • High body temperature
  • Dizziness

Left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, an illness that arises when the body’s core reaches a temperature higher than 40 °C. It can present itself with a variety of symptoms including disorientation and lack of sweat and can lead to unconsciousness, organ failure and death if immediate action is not taken. If someone you know is suffering from heat illness, your first priority should be to get them to a cool, shaded area out of direct sunlight. Have them lie down to reduce exertion and give them water or sports drinks if they are alert. The immediate danger comes from the extreme heat in the person’s core, which makes it crucial to lower the person’s temperature quickly. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are entirely preventable with a bit of planning, and following the safety tips above can mitigate any heat illness that may occur. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the steps to take before you need them, and have a safe and happy summer!