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Summer safety tips for corrections officers

Now is a good time to be reminded about the dangers of heat for you and the inmate population you manage


With extra attention to ventilation and hydration, you and those you manage will make it safely through another summer season.


Article updated August 4, 2017.

Summer is a good time to be reminded about the dangers of heat for you and the inmate population you manage.

Many correctional facilities were built without concern for ventilation. In recent years, some correctional facilities have been hit with court orders regarding excessive heat and the health impact on the inmate population. Ventilation and hydration are the cornerstones of health during high heat alerts.

The human body maintains a normal temperature mainly through sweating. When humidity combines with high heat, the body must work even harder to stay cool. Therefore, adequate fluid intake is required to compensate for increased fluid loss.

Water is always the best hydrator, however any beverage can help replace fluids. Most experts recommend avoiding drinks with caffeine or alcohol, as these substances can act as diuretics to draw fluid out of the body. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 2 to 4 glasses (16-32 oz) of cool, non-alcoholic fluids every hour of activity in heat.

Although electrolytes (sometimes called salts) are also lost with excessive sweating, salt tablets are not advised without a physician’s order. Sports drinks or fruit juices can help replace lost minerals during long periods of extreme excursion in intense heat.

Shade of any kind is better than direct sun in high temperatures. Be sure you have opportunity for shade breaks during on-yard duty.

Care should be taken to provide shade opportunities for the inmate population as well. This can be especially challenging if your environment is a working prison and inmate work groups are out on road crews or farming. Consider ways to create shade using tarps or awnings.

Also consider time of day for outdoor activities. Moving work and recreation periods to early morning or early evening can be helpful.

Even a few hours of air conditioning can stave off heat illnesses. If no air-conditioned areas are provided in your facility, even taking a lunch break in an air-conditioned car can help. Some facilities use electric fans to increase ventilation. Be careful of tripping hazards with loose electric cords.

Know the symptoms that indicate trouble. Take action by seeking shade and fluid as soon as you notice any of these symptoms in yourself, a workmate or inmate:

  • Throbbing headache;
  • Hot, dry skin;
  • Dizziness;
  • Nausea;
  • Confusion.

Inmates and staff members with certain conditions or taking some medications are especially heat sensitive. Special care should be given for those with any of the following conditions:

  • Elderly;
  • Obese;
  • Heart disease;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Mental illness;
  • Taking medications that increase heat sensitivity;
  • Psychiatric medication, including antidepressants, beta blockers (heart medication), or diuretics (water pills).

With extra attention to ventilation and hydration, you and those you manage will make it safely through another summer season.

How do you handle high heat days at your facility? Share your creative solutions in the comment section of this post.

Dr. Schoenly has been a nurse for 30 years and is currently specializing in correctional healthcare. She is an author and educator seeking to improve patient safety and professional nursing practice behind bars. Her web-presence, Correctional Nurse, provides information and support to those working in correctional health care. Her books, Essentials of Correctional Nursing and The Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook are available in print and digital on Amazon.

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