How to avoid heat-related illnesses when working in summer

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Do you perform strenuous work under the sun? Or do you work indoors but must bear extreme temperatures because of machinery or tools? Then you are susceptible to occupational heat stress and other heat-related illnesses.

According to UFCW Canada, most at-risk workers include those employed in bakeries, food processing, canneries, restaurants, and laundries, where temperatures can rise to extreme levels, particularly in the summer months. Outdoor workers, such as farmworkers, parks and recreation staff, and landscapers, are also susceptible to heat stress during the summer. Older workers, especially those with medical conditions or are under certain medications, are at a higher risk.

Heat-related illnesses and safety problems

A very hot work environment can cause a variety of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, fainting, heat rash and transient heat fatigue, and finally heat stroke. Below is a chart showing symptoms and first aid measures to take if a worker shows signs of heat-related illness Occupational Safety and Health Administration, US Dept. of Labor):

Chart showing symptoms of heat-related illnesses and the appropriate first-aid response

Ways to beat the heat

7 tips and strategies on how workers can avoid heat-related illness from Canadian Occupational Safety:

7 ways to beat the heat, Canadian HR Reporter

7 strategies:

  1. Avoid direct sun exposure – Move some tasks indoors or in the shade. Take frequent breaks in a cool, well-ventilated area. Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day.
  2. Don’t be afraid to sweat – Sweating is the body’s most effective cooling mechanism. Cooling occurs when your sweat evaporates.
  3. Become acclimatized – Don’t take on strenuous work too soon, especially when you are not used to the heat. It can take 7-14 days for the body to adapt to a hot environment fully. Ease into your work slowly, gradually increasing your workload.
  4. Stay hydrated – Drink water every 10-20 minutes whether you’re thirsty or not. You will need to replace the fluid you sweat out while working. Ideally, drink an average of one-litre every hour in hot conditions. Don’t take caffeine nor alcohol which can dehydrate you.
  5. Wear appropriate clothing – Cover up as much as possible when working outside. Wear loose-fitting clothes made of a light fabric that breathes. Wear a hat.
  6. Watch for signs of heat-related illness – Learn to notice signs of heat exhaustion and how to respond to them. The table above can help you.
  7. Have an emergency action plan – Workplaces should have an emergency action plan that includes procedures for providing immediate first-aid and medical care. Workplaces, where heat stress can occur, should monitor conditions and measure heat levels. They should also ensure that workers get specified rest periods depending on the measured heat levels.

Sources: Health and safety environment, UFCW Canada; Top 10 tips for handling summer heat, Western Farm Press; Heat-related illnesses and first-aid, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, US Dept. of Labor; and 7 ways to beat the heat when working outdoors, The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. All retrieved July 19, 2018.

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