Five Tips to Protect Workers from Heat Stress



Workplace safety and the well-being of the workers is an important concern. Exposure to a hot environment, extreme heat and heat-related health hazards poses a potential threat to indoor and outdoor employees alike. There is a dire need to not only have employers providing proper protection from heat stress but also spreading knowledge and awareness amongst workers and employees to tackle it in the safe and compliant manner.

In most cases, heat stress can result in severe thirst, weakness, exhaustion, uncontrolled heat stroke, irregularly high blood pressure and, in the most severe cases, death. Our bodies are designed to maintain a core body temperature in a way that allows us to operate normally in most weather conditions.

However, heat stress occurs when a person’s body fails to maintain the internal temperature. Heat strokes and other heat-related issues mostly occur during the hotter months, or when a heat wave strikes. That said, heat stress is not limited to the summer months. Extremely challenging working conditions and workplaces without proper ventilation can also cause heat stress during the winter months when the temperature is not very high.

Factors leading to heat-related disorders

There are a lot of factors that can potentially lead to heat stress. These are hot weather with high temperature, humidity, direct exposure to sun or heat, limited ventilation or air circulation in a closed space, physical exertion, ill-health, some medicines, inadequate tolerance in a person towards heat, and insufficient water intake during a prolonged period of time.

Symptoms & Conditions Related to Heat Stress

Heat Stroke

This is the most common symptom of heat stress. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature regulation fails, and the body temperature rises to critical levels. If heat stroke is too serious, it can also result in death. Its primary symptoms are confusion, loss of consciousness, irrigational behavior, convulsions, hot dry skin, lack of sweating, and extremely high body temperature.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a combination of excessive heat and dehydration. The common symptoms are dizziness, nausea, headache, weakness, thirst, and giddiness. Fainting and collapsing are also associated with heat exhaustion. In such circumstances, the person suffering from heat exhaustion must be removed from hot conditions and given adequate hydration, rest, ice packs, etc.

Heat Cramps

This usually happens by doing exhaustive physical labor in a very hot environment. It has been attributed to an imbalance in electrolytes due to lack of water replenishment and extreme sweating. To avoid heat cramps, professionals working in very hot conditions must drink water every 15-20 minutes apart from having carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids like Sqwincher.

Heat Rashes

When the skin gets persistently wetted by unevaporated sweat it can cause heat rashes. This is yet another heat related illness that is quite common in people working in very hot conditions. They look like a cluster of pimples or blisters and are most likely to occur on the chest, under the breasts, groin, and neck. Keeping the affected area dry by using dusting powder is an effective way of treating this condition.

Five Tips to Protect Employees from Heat Stress

Working in challenging conditions can put the workers in danger and organizations should implement recommended steps to ensure their safety. Here are five heat stress tips to protect workers from heat stress and heat exhaustion.

Educate workers about the signs of heat stress

When it comes to the safety and health of the workers, providing training and educating them about the causes of heat related illness and how to deal with them is extremely important. The health and workplace safety organizations suggest that educating the workers on the signs of heat stress and symptoms of heat illness goes a long way as it readies them to act on time.

That means companies should have training and education so employees recognize the signals and symptoms of heat stress and how to recover from heat stress related illness quickly. Organizations should also put in place a heat stress prevention program and, if possible, customize that program according to the work environment, number of employees, working conditions, etc. This will ensure that all safety measures are in place in case of an emergency.

Let the Workers Acclimatize to the Heat

Whenever we get into extreme weather conditions, be it extreme heat or extreme cold, our bodies need to acclimatize to it so that they can slowly get used to the change and start functioning according to the surroundings.

This is why mountain climbers spend a few days in the base camps before starting their treks. This practice ensures that there is no sudden change in the body temperature, and it doesn’t get into a state of shock. The same is true for employees working in extremely hot conditions.

Studies have shown that most heat stress-related illnesses happen during the first couple of days of working in the heat. So, if the workers are allowed to acclimate, the heat stress risk reduces to a large extent. Acclimatization can be done by exercising in the heat, sauna, hot water bath, or gradually increasing the number of hours you spend working in the heat.

Create a Conducive Working Environment

Working in hot conditions is not easy, especially if the work demands hard physical labor. The employers must ensure that they create a conducive work environment for the workers and ensure they provide as much support as they can. The workers should be provided with timely breaks. Any work that requires extra physical effort should be scheduled in cooler times – early mornings or late evenings. Work sites should have a resting place where workers can lie down if they start to feel signs of heat stress.

Employers should also ensure that they keep a tab on workers at high risk for heat stress. Workers wearing semi-permeable or impermeable clothing when working at a temperature exceeding 70 degrees Fahrenheit or high energy levels should be checked for their heart rate, recovery heart rate, and temperature. Employers should also ensure the workplace is well-ventilated. This will naturally create a cooler atmosphere and reduce the chances of heat stress.

Provide Personal Protective Equipment

Proper clothing and other cooling protective gear can also make a huge difference in preventing heat stress. The employers must provide reflective, loose-fitting clothing to protect workers in hot outdoor job sites. Wet clothes and cooling towels can also help greatly in improving the body's ability to weather the working conditions.

Ensure Ample Hydration and Multiple Rest Breaks

Even though the human body is capable of doing extraordinary feats, it is still not a machine and requires proper care and timely breaks to be able to continue performing in extreme conditions. While it is the employer’s responsibility to provide suitable working conditions, the employees can also take care of their health by staying hydrated and taking timely breaks from heavy physical work. Drinking enough water during the workday and using carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids like is a good way to keep heat stress at bay.

Our Take on Heat Stress

Working in tough conditions is never easy, especially if you spend long hours in those conditions and do hard physical labor. This is where being prepared for possible heat stress comes in handy. Whether it is about creating the right working environment, providing proper equipment, or educating the workers about drinking plenty of water and avoiding heat stress, it is important to be ready in case an emergency presents itself.