Working in Extreme Heat: Safe Work Practices to Avoid Heat Related Illness

What is Heat Stress?

Heat stress is the body’s inability to control its internal temperature. It can result in serious illness or death.[divider size=”15px”]

The disorders and their symptoms of heat stress:[divider size=”10px”]

Heat Rashes: These are a common problem resulting from persistent wetting of clothing by un-evaporated sweat.[divider size=”5px”]

  1. Symptoms: Clusters of small red dots or pimples and itchy skin[divider size=”5px”]
  2. First Aid Treatment: If possible allow the area to get dry, cool air, use a drying agent like talc or baby powder.[divider size=”15px”]

Heat Cramps: These are usually the result of hard physical labour in a hot environment, often resulting from an imbalance of electrolytes in the body.[divider size=”5px”]

  1. Symptoms: Headaches, dizziness, vomiting or upset stomach[divider size=”5px”]
  2. First Aid Treatment: Remove patient from hot environment, rest/massage cramping muscles, replace fluids by water.[divider size=”15px”]

Heat Exhaustion: This is a result of the combination of excessive heat and dehydration.[divider size=”5px”]

Untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.[divider size=”5px”]

  1. Symptoms: Moist skin, rapid weak pulse, feeling tired or weak, and muscle cramps[divider size=”5px”]
  2. First Aid Treatment: Have the person rest in a cool place, give cool water, remove excess clothing, apply cool wet cloths and fan.[divider size=”15px”]

Heat Stroke: This is the most serious disorder associated with heat stress. It occurs when the body’s temperature regulation fails, and body temperature rises to critical levels. It is a medical emergency that could lead to death.[divider size=”5px”]

  1. Symptoms: Unable to sweat, hot dry red skin, rapid and weak pulse, mental confusion, unconsciousness, seizures, and convulsions. [divider size=”5px”]
  2. First Aid Treatment: THIS IS A LIFE-THREATENING EMERGENCY! SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY! Cool body by any means available – cold packs, wrap in sheet and soak with water, Monitor ABC’s (airway, breathing, circulation), be prepared to perform CPR.[divider
How does Heat Stress effect workers?

Sweat evaporates more rapidly in dry weather, cooling the body more efficiently than in humid weather. When working in humid conditions, the core temperature rises more rapidly. This is why weather forecasts add a humidity heat factor to represent how you will actually feel outdoors.[divider size=”15px”]

There are two humidex guidelines to determine the appropriate actions required:[divider size=”10px”]

Humidex 1 – refers to un-acclimatized workers doing moderate work, and ranges indicate the need for general heat stress controls.[divider size=”5px”]

  Humidex 1 general controls – include providing annual heat stress training, encouraging adequate fluid replacement, permitting self-limitation of exposure, encouraging employees to watch for symptoms in co-workers, and adjusting expectations for workers coming back to work after an absence.[divider size=”15px”]

Humidex 2 – refers to acclimatized workers doing moderate work, and ranges indicate the need for specific controls.[divider size=”5px”]

  Humidex 2 specific controls – include (in addition to general controls) engineering controls to reduce physical job demands, shielding of radiant heat, increased air movement, reduction of heat and moisture emissions at the source, adjusting exposure times to allow sufficient recovery, and personal body-cooling equipment.[divider size=”15px”]

Did You Know? Heat stress is progressive; therefore, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms before they occur.[divider size=”20px”]

Ways you can reduce the risk of heat stress.

Work in a cooler workspace
  1. Using ventilation or air-conditioning to reduce temperatures and humidity in work and rest areas
  2. Work in shaded areas and if possible and away or shielded from heat sources[divider size=”15px”]
Reduce your exposure to heat stress
  1. Monitor yourself and co-workers for signs and symptoms of heat illness[divider size=”5px”]
  2. Acclimatization – begin by exposing yourself in short durations at the beginning of the season and then slowly increasing your exposure and duration; this will build up tolerance[divider size=”5px”]
  3. Use work-rest cycles, with breaks and rests taking part in cool, shaded areas that are well ventilated[divider size=”5px”]
  4. Take more frequent rest breaks; take longer rest breaks[divider size=”5px”]
  5. Slow the work pace (i.e. work self-pacing)[divider size=”5px”]
  6. Minimize hard, physical labour for the coolest parts of the day[divider size=”5px”]
  7. Drink plenty of water throughout the work day, and before exposure; Water or sport drinks are best; Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol[divider size=”5px”]
  8. If possible rotate hot work duties with co-workers; Under extreme conditions, work must be stopped[divider size=”15px”]
Adjust your clothing according to the environment[divider size=”5px”]

  1. Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose fitting clothing[divider size=”5px”]
  2. Dress in layers so clothing can be removed as the temperature rises[divider size=”5px”]
  3. Wear a hat and sunscreen when working in direct sunlight[divider size=”5px”]
  4. Wear heat reflective clothing if working near heat sources[divider size=”20px”]
Is there a magic number for the temperature that you can’t work at?

The short answer is no. There are just more questions such as:

  1. The individual doing the work, what is their health like?
  2. What are the demands of the work?
  3. When does the work have to be done?
  4. What is the humidex?
  5. Is it under direct sun or indoors?
  6. Is there a breeze or is the air still?
  7. Most important of all, listen to the signals that the body is giving! What signals are the body giving?[divider size=”20px”]

Take into consideration the work that has to be done, who is doing it and apply the information here to make safe choices. If the humidex is over 42 or 47 and you follow the work / rest schedule on the humidex table, at 45 minutes per hour rest, 15 minutes work, there might not be a business case to keep working. [divider size=”20px”]

Questions about your workplace safety risk management? Contact 1Life Workplace Safety Solutions for a no obligation consultation at 204-231-5433.