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Heat Stress: Risk Factors and Preventative Safety Solutions (EU/OSHA)

When summer is here, beware of its energy-sapping heat. For construction workers in particular, heat is not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous.

Working during the summer months means many workers are at risk of heat-related illness – especially when exposed to direct sunlight and high temperatures, involved in heavy physical labour, or required to wear heavy protective clothing.

Learn about the dangers of heat stress, what it means for workers at risk, and how to combat the dangers by using the correct protective safety solutions.

Heat stress: risk factors & occupational hazards

Heat stress is a physical condition in which the body cannot get rid of excess heat. It causes the body’s core temperature to go up, increasing heart rate and making it difficult for a person to focus on a task.  In severe instances, heat stress causes irritability, sickness, fainting, and even death.

In addition to health and safety concerns, heat- related illnesses lead to poor performance and lost productivity. According to NIOSH (US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), for every 1,000 workers, 2 are at risk for heat stress. That number goes up, too, depending on occupation. For example, those working in construction mining, and manufacturing are at even greater risk for occupational exposure to heat stress due to the combination of a hot environment and high physical demand.

But what are the symptoms of heat stress?

Heat stress comes in various forms:

  • HEAT STROKE

Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.

When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 41°C or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

Symptoms of heat stroke may include:

  • Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Very high body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness (coma)
  • Fatal if treatment delayed

 

  • HEAT EXHAUSTION

Heat Exhaustion is often a precursor to heat stroke.  It is often accompanied by elevated core body temperatures  around 38°C–39°C.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Heavy sweating
  • Irritability

PREVENTING HEAT STRESS

  • Track weather and heat conditions and adjust work accordingly, particularly in the event of a heat wave
  • Schedule heavy work for earlier or later in the day instead of the hottest midday hours
  • During hot weather, give workers more frequent breaks and/or assign additional workers to the job. Ideally provide cool areas and shade for breaks
  • Provide workers with plenty of fresh water. Encourage workers to drink water before and during their shifts to stay hydrated (avoid drinks containing caffeine/do not consume alcohol)
  • Drink plenty of water – every 15 minutes! Drink often, before you feel thirsty
  • Train workers in recognising heat stress symptoms, and how/when to obtain medical assistance in the event of an emergency
  • Designate a responsible person to monitor conditions and protect workers who are at risk of heat stress or use a buddy system
  • Wear lightweight, light coloured, loose-fitting working clothes
  • This will not help prevent heat stress, but it is important to prevent skin cancer: regularly apply high protection sunscreen on areas of your body not covered by clothing
  • Consider protective clothing and PPE that provides cooling or at least are breathable

These are tips for best practice only. Always refer to your company safety requirements  or to your local health and safety authority’s direction.

 

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