Heat stress can lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, fainting, cramps and rashes. High temperatures can also lead to injuries among workers through sweating hands and dizziness. The workers who are most exposed to heat stress are laborers working outdoors as construction workers, cleaners, agricultural workers, etc..
The prevention of heat stress is very important and all employers are required to provide education and training for their employees to help them understand the effects of heat stress and how to prevent it.
How does the body react to heat?
The body reacts to heat by increasing the blood flow to the skin’s surface, and by sweating. This results in cooling as sweat evaporates from the body’s surface and heat is carried to the surface of the body from within by the increased blood flow. Heat can also be lost by radiation and convection from the body’s surface.
Top 10 warning signs of heat stroke
Symptoms of heat stress can range from mild heat rash or sunburn to severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
1. Extremely high body temperature
2. Hot, dry, skin – an inability to cool the body through perspiration may cause the skin to feel dry
3. Increased heart and respiration rates as blood pressure drops and the heart attempts to maintain adequate circulation
4. Throbbing headache, nausea or vomiting due to dehydration
5. Weakness, fainting, or dizziness – especially if standing position is assumed quickly – due to low blood pressure from dehydration
6. Muscle cramps
7. Dark-colored urine – a sign of dehydration
8. Confused, hostile, or seemingly intoxicated behavior
9. Pale or bluish skin color in advanced cases due to constricted blood vessels
10. Seizures or unconsciousness
What are the effects of heat stress?
Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways, and some people are more susceptible to it than others.
Typical symptoms are:
·An inability to concentrate
·Severe thirst - a late symptom of heat stress
·Heat exhaustion - fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
·Heat stroke - hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage
Where does heat stress occur?
Examples of workplaces where people might suffer from heat stress because of the hot environment created by the process, or restricted spaces are:
· glass and rubber manufacturing plants
· compressed air tunnels
· conventional and nuclear power plants
· foundries and smelting operations
· brick-firing and ceramics plants
· boiler rooms
· bakeries and catering kitchens
How to protect yourself against heat stress?
Sometimes it’s difficult to self-recognize heat stress, so it’s important to use a buddy system at work to keep an eye on each other and spot potential heat stress symptoms.
· Stay fit
· When possible, avoid working in hot areas and in full sun
· Take frequent breaks
· Use sunblock with at least SPF 15 and re-apply every two hours
· Cover up with long-sleeve shirt, hat
· Increase fluid intake
· Avoid alcohol and excessive caffeine
· Reduce activity when exposed to heat
· Use buddy system to watch for symptoms
· Increase salt intake (if doctor approves)
How employers can protect workers against heat stress?
· Train workers in heat stress awareness and first aid
· Provide drinking water
· Provide rest breaks and air conditioned rest areas
· Encourage workers to stay fit; to drink water
· Indoors, provide fans for air movement
· Use machines to reduce physical demands of work
· Schedule most strenuous work to cooler times of the day
· Measure daily humidex ratings and have a humidex heat stress response plan
· Have a heat stress prevention program specific to your workplace
Credit to Health and Safety Executive & Workplace Safety North