Heat stress is often overlooked as a workplace hazard, but it can pose a serious risk to workers. Heat stress is a hazard for many workers in different industries.
A few examples include industrial plants where heat is generated by machinery, kitchens, greenhouses and agriculture, and construction. Heat can be of particular concern to workers on outdoor job sites during the summer.
Organizations have a duty to provide workers with adequate cooling facilities and rest opportunities during the work day. As extreme heat becomes more common, organizations will need to review their working environments and processes and ensure that workers are able to keep cool.
What is Heat Stress?
Heat stress, also called heat exhaustion, occurs when the body cannot get rid of excess heat. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. Heat stress, when left untreated, or heat stroke.
Workers in a hot environment should be aware of these warning signs of heat exhaustion:
- Profuse sweating
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness and/or confusion
- Clammy, moist skin
- Pale or flushed complexion
- Muscle cramps
- Slightly elevated body temperature
- Fast and shallow breathing
If heat exhaustion progresses into heat stroke, symptoms can include:
- Hot, dry, flushed skin
- No sweating
- Agitation and confusion
- Decreased level of consciousness or awareness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast or irregular breathing
- Irregular pulse
- Cramps or painful muscle spasms
- Tiny red spots on the skin
When heat stroke is left untreated, it can lead to shock and cardiac arrest. This is why it is imperative for workers to be educated on the early signs of heat stress, and for organizations to have a clear process in place for reporting and mitigating heat stress.
How to prevent workplace heat stress
Knowing the signs and symptoms of heat stress and related illnesses is an important step. Workers who may be exposed to high temperatures during their routine duties should be able to access cooling measures to prevent and avoid heat stress.
A cooling station should be available to all workers on a job site. A cooling station should be consistently shaded throughout the day, and should use fans or air conditioning units to maintain a safe and comfortable temperature. A misting station is also a good option provided humidity is low and there is a safe area to put one.
Workers should be able to access a supply of cool drinking water throughout the day. They should be trained on how to reduce their personal risk of heat stress, through strategies such as:
- Wearing lightweight, light coloured, loose fitting clothes
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or heavy meals
- Wearing sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, and reapplying every 2 hours
- Drinking water every 15 to 20 minutes even if they do not feel thirsty
- Taking frequent breaks in a cooling station or shaded area
What to do in the event of heat stress
If a worker develops heat stress, supervisors and workers should be trained on proper first aid measures. If a worker is suspected of having heat stress, seek immediate medical attention and call 911.
While waiting on emergency responders:
- Move the person to a cool shaded area
- Loosen or remove heavy clothing
- Provide cool drinking water
- Fan and mist the person with water
Heat Stress Hierarchy of Control
As with any workplace risk, refer to the hierarchy of control in determining mitigations. The most effective way to reduce the risk of heat stress is to eliminate the source of exposure. If that’s not possible, there are other risk controls to use.
Elimination or substitution
Eliminate the heat hazard by substituting a safer process or material. This may be viable where heat is coming from industrial machinery.
Make physical modifications to facilities, equipment and processes. This may include setting up a job site in a shaded area, or setting up a cooling station.
Changing work practices and work policies, awareness tools, and training. Administrative controls can include providing workers with additional opportunities for breaks during hot weather, or adjusting working hours so work is done outside the hottest part of the day.
Personal protective equipment
This is the least effective control. It must always be used in addition to at least one other control. Personal protective equipment for heat can vary depending on the heat source but may include protective clothing and eye coverage.
Whether you work in an industry where heat is a year-round concern, or are concerned about heat stress during the summer months, Fluent Motion can provide advice and assistance for developing a heat stress prevention policy, so you can keep your workers safe and healthy. Contact us today.