Heatstroke on Ships – What to do if a crew member is affected?

Currently, we face a tremendous heatwave in various areas of the world which millions of people suffer from. Now imagine working hard on a ship and using full protection equipment.

Heatstroke is a serious medical emergency that can occur, especially in hot and humid climates. It happens when the body’s temperature regulation system fails to maintain a safe core temperature, usually above 40°C (104°F). Heatstroke can lead to organ damage, disability, and even death if not promptly and effectively managed. Here’s how heatstroke management on ships should be handled:

• Recognition of symptoms is crucial for prompt intervention: a very high body temperature, confusion, rapid and shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, dry or flushed skin, nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness.

• Call for Immediate Medical Assistance: If heatstroke is suspected, alert the ship’s medical personnel or contact the nearest medical facility for assistance as soon as possible.

• Move to a cooler Area: If feasible, move the affected person to a shaded or air-conditioned space. Lowering their body temperature is crucial to prevent further complications.

• Remove Excess Clothing: Loosen or remove any unnecessary clothing to aid heat dissipation.

• Cool the Body: Cooling the person’s body is essential to bring down their temperature. There are several methods to do this:

  a. Apply Cold Water: Drench the person’s clothing with cold water and use fans or air conditioning to enhance evaporation.

  b. Ice Packs: Apply ice packs or cold compresses to areas with abundant blood flow, such as the neck, armpits, and groin (never put ice packs directly on the skin!).

  c. Cold Water Immersion: If the patient is still in a stable condition, you may place the person in a bath or pool of cold water, ensuring their head is kept above water.

  d. Evaporative Cooling: If other methods are not available, moisten the person’s skin with water and use fans to facilitate cooling.

• Hydration: Encourage the person to drink water, isotonic drinks, juices… if conscious and alert. Dehydration can worsen heatstroke, so maintaining fluid balance is crucial.

• Monitor Vital Signs: Continuously monitor the affected person’s vital signs, including body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate, while waiting for medical assistance.

• No Medications needed: Avoid giving the person any medications to reduce their temperature unless prescribed by a medical professional.

• Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine: Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to dehydration, so they should be avoided during hot weather conditions.

• Never leave the person unattended! 

• Preventing heatstroke is better than treating it.

Encourage crew members to stay hydrated, take regular breaks in cool areas, if possible wear lightweight and breathable clothing, and avoid strenuous physical activity during extreme heat conditions.

Always remember that heatstroke is a life-threatening condition, and professional medical attention should be sought immediately. Proper training and preparedness for such emergencies are essential for crew members on ships to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on board. 

If you want to learn about the dangers of heatstroke or want us to help in prevention and treatment – get in touch.


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