Preventing, Recognizing and Treating Heat Stress in the Workplace

Summer is a peak time for many businesses, however the hot weather can often spell trouble and cause workplace safety issues. Heat stress can be a real concern for employers whose employees work outside under the hot sun or inside hot factories. 

Heat stress comes in three different forms which range in severity including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. The last of these can be fatal. 

In order for employers to protect their employees from heat stress, it is not only important to take preventative measures against it, but also to know the warning signs and know what steps to take if it does occur. 

Preventing Heat Stress

Your best defence against heat stress is a good offence. Fortunately, there are many steps employers can take to help keep employees safe and prevent heat stress. 

These include:

  • Providing easy access to water and/or flavoured sports drinks.
  • Ensuring that employees who work in hot conditions have regular rest breaks in cool areas. The hotter the environment, and the more strenuous the work, the more frequently rest breaks are needed. 
  • Ensuring that there is proper air circulation (air conditioning, fans, vents, etc.) in indoor environments.
  • Train workers to recognize the symptoms of heat stress. Allow workers who are experiencing early symptoms to have a rest break. 
  • New employees who are not accustomed to working in the heat should acclimatize gradually and not allowed to work full shifts right away in a high heat environment. (It takes about one week for the body to adjust to working in hot environments).
  • Have a plan for the prevention, recognition and treatment of heat stress in the workplace. 

How to recognize heat stress

  • Heat Cramps – When an individual has heat cramps they will sweat profusely and have involuntary muscle spasms. 
  • Heat Exhaustion – Signs of heat exhaustion include profuse sweating, cold clammy skin, dizziness, fatigue, low blood pressure, muscle cramps, headache and nausea. 
  • Heat Stroke – Heat Stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s temperature rises above 104 degrees F, and it can no longer cool itself. Symptoms include lack of sweating, throbbing headache, dizziness, hot dry skin, muscle weakness, confusion, seizures or unconsciousness. 

What to do when heat stress occurs

  • Heat Cramps – Get the individual out of the hot environment. Make them rest and drink plenty of water or a sports drink to replace their electrolytes 
  • Heat Exhaustion – Get the person out of the heat and remove any clothing that is around their head or neck. They should drink plenty of water but must do so slowly in order to avoid becoming nauseated. Have them lie down with their feet up. If they are not feeling better within 30 minutes, they may need medical attention. 
  • Heatstroke – This is a medical emergency and you should call 911 immediately. You should do everything possible to bring down the person’s temperature including removing clothing, using ice packs on neck, groin and armpits and covering the person with wet towels or blankets. 

If you would like to learn more about heat stress in the workplace and how you can help prevent it, call TeksMed today.