In Atlantic Canada, June is that month when we transition from spring to summer and warmer temperatures are eagerly awaited. With those warmer temperatures comes some precautions to consider when at work and play.
Heat stress is a topic of concern with our customers in the summer months so let’s get the conversation started. In this blog, I’ll be discussing the importance of heat stress, how you can recognize the signs and, most importantly, how you can reduce your risk.
Why does heat stress happen?
Sweating is your body’s natural mechanism to remove heat; airflow across your body while you sweat creates an evaporative effect that helps cool you down. This evaporative cooling can be affected by things like humidity level, the amount of air movement in your workspace or protective clothing like coveralls that may limit your body’s ability to cool itself down. If your environment doesn’t allow the evaporation effect to happen, your temperature can rise.
Heat stress concerns are often associated with those who work outdoors in direct sunlight (i.e., construction, road repair and landscaping roles). However, heat stress can also happen indoors. Not sure whether you’re at risk? Ask yourself these questions:
- Does you workplace use processes or equipment that generate significant amounts of heat?
- Some examples include commercial laundry, baking facilities and industrial operations like foundries, pulp and paper, power generation and refineries.
- Do you work in an area with little air movement such as in attics or crawl spaces?
- If so, additional precautions to increase ventilation and cooling capability should be explored.
- How hard are you working (physically)?
- The more physically demanding your job is, the more likely it is to have your body running at high temperatures.
- What is the humidity level of your work environment?
- Higher humidity may limit your body’s ability to cool down.
- Are you acclimatized to the environment?
- If you haven’t grown accustomed to the work environment (i.e., it’s your first day on a given job), it’s not uncommon to feel the initial symptoms of heat stress.
Remember, we all react to heat in different ways. Just because your coworker isn’t feeling symptoms of heat stress, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t.
How to Recognize the Signs of Heat Stress
There are a number of symptoms that your body will exhibit when working in the heat. Symptoms can include:
- Heat rash resulting from plugged sweat glands in humid environments
- Sunburn from too much direct sun exposure
- Heat cramps when sweating drains your body of salt
- Fainting when there is not enough fluid taken in during activities
- Heat exhaustion when a combination of fluid and salt loss causes the body’s cooling system to shut down. (Body temperature over 38 °C/100 °F)
- Heat stroke when your body has consumed all of its salt and fluid reserves and can no longer cool itself down. (Body temperature over 41 °C/106 °F)
Being aware of and recognizing these symptoms in yourself and your co-workers is an important part of summer safety at work.
Reducing Your Risk of Heat Stress
Developing a plan for hot weather work and training employees on its components is a good starting point. That includes having a work/rest schedule for various tasks and understanding that these times may need be altered based on changing temperature and humidity conditions, physical requirements of work and worker acclimatization. Choosing protective clothing that allows the body to cool itself naturally and wearing the appropriate PPE can make a big difference. Hydration and electrolyte replacement availability is also really important when it comes to avoiding heat stress.
Last of all, it’s important to have a monitoring plan in place for WBGT (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature) measurements so decisions can be made with accurate data.
Planning ahead of the hot season can go a long way towards a safe and productive workplace in the summer. Train your employees on heat stress awareness so that your team can recognize symptoms and learn the proper treatment protocols.
If you have existing heat stress monitoring equipment, ensure that it is in good working order by calibrating prior to the arrival our hot weather. (We can help with your calibration needs too!) If you don’t have existing equipment and would like to explore your options, we offer new equipment and rental equipment to complete your heat stress preparedness program.
For additional questions or assistance planning for your summer season, please contact us today.