Heat Stress and Summer Safety

While many of us love the summer heat and the activities it brings, such as days on the beach or enjoying time with friends on your favourite patio, the high temperatures of summer can pose a real hazard in the workplace. So, we felt it was time for a refresher on how to recognize the signs of heat stress and what to do about them. 

Whether you work outdoors, or even indoors in a warm environment such as a restaurant kitchen or factory, overexertion in the heat can quickly turn into a medical emergency. 

Warning signs of heat stress or stroke include:

  • High body temperature
  • Confusion or dizziness or the appearance of being intoxicated
  • Dark coloured urine (this can be a sign of dehydration)
  • Fatigue or fainting
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hot and dry skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Unconsciousness

If you or one of your employees starts exhibiting these symptoms, it is important to get them inside into an air-conditioned area as quickly as possible. If it is not possible to get indoors, then you should get them to a cool and shady spot out of the sun. 

Contact medical aid immediately and while you are waiting for them to arrive, loosen the person’s clothing and if they are conscious, give them water. 

Protecting yourself and your employees against heat stress

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers have a duty to take every reasonable action to protect employees. The Ministry of Labour’s current threshold limit value (TLV) for heat stress is based on keeping a worker’s core temperature from rising to about 38 degrees C. This TLV is recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). 

Because heat stress often comes with fatigue and confusion, it can often be difficult for an employee to recognize the symptoms for themselves. For this reason, it is recommended that your employees receive training in recognizing the symptoms and then use a buddy system when working in hot environments. 

Employers should provide plenty of drinking water as well as rest breaks in air-conditioned – or at least shaded – areas. If possible, schedule the more strenuous work for cooler periods of the day. Encouraging your employees to stay fit and healthy, can also help to protect them against heat stress. 

Employees working outside in the heat should wear sun protection such as sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. If it does not interfere with their work, they should also consider covering up by wearing hats, and cool long-sleeved shirts. 

For indoor environments, provide fans to help circulate the air. 

Even if you take all the necessary precautions, however, it is still possible that an employee could succumb to heat stress. This is why it is important for employers to have a Humidex Heat Stress Response Plan. 

If an employee is advised to take a leave from work due to heat stress, our occupational disability program WorkAbility is the perfect solution. For more information on managing workplace illnesses and injuries, contact TeksMed today.