As we combat the continuous surge in temperatures due to climate change, the risk of heat-related illnesses in the workplace are a growing concern. Our bodies will naturally maintain a temperature between 36°C and 38°C and sweating cools the bodies down. However, if you work in a hot environment, the body’s natural cooling mechanisms are sometimes unable to maintain a healthy body temperature, leading to an increase in the core body temperature and in turn to potential heat stress and injury. This article aims to explore the causes, symptoms, and potential solutions for managing and preventing heat stress.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat stress is crucial for early intervention and prevention. The symptoms can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions and can look like the following:
Heat Edema - Swelling that generally occurs if not acclimatized to working in hot conditions.
Heat Rashes - Tiny red spots on the skin with severe itching due to inflammation caused by clogged sweat glands. In most cases, these disappear upon return to a cooler environment.
Heat Cramps – Painful muscle cramps, often leading to heat exhaustion if not treated in time.
Heat Exhaustion - Characterized by shallow breathing, elevated heart rate, heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, and an elevated heart rate. Requires immediate attention to prevent from progressing to a heatstroke.
Heat Syncope - Heat-induced dizziness and fainting caused by insufficient blood flow because of loss of body fluids through sweating, and by lowered blood pressure due to prolonged standing.
Heatstroke - This is a medical emergency and the most severe form of heat stress, occurring when the body's temperature regulation system fails, and the core body temperature rises to dangerous levels. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, hot and dry skin (lack of sweating), seizures, irregular pulse, shock and cardiac arrest.
Preventing and managing heat stress involves a combination of individual actions and employer responsibilities:
• Use of fans, air conditioners to reduce temperature and humidity.
• Improving ventilation and circulation at the workplace.
• Use of insulating and reflective barriers to reduce temperatures at workplaces.
• Reducing physical demands of work by making use of equipment.
• Proactive planning by assessing workplaces and job requirements for hot weather.
• Providing cool drinking water near workers.
• Providing cool, shaded work areas and air-conditioned rest areas when working in outdoor environments.
• Ensuring proper acclimatization before strenuous activities.
• Scheduling of activities based on temperatures throughout the day with least amount of outdoor/demanding activities during the peak hours.
• Providing training to employees on how to reduce/prevent heat stress, recognize symptoms and report/call for help.
• Creating and disseminating an emergency response plan for the organization to respond to heat related emergencies.
• Notifying all employees of special weather alerts to help prepare for extreme weather conditions.
• Constant monitoring of the staff by Supervisors for any signs or symptoms related to Heat Stress.
• Staying hydrated.
• Reducing sun exposure and taking measures to safeguarding when exposed.
• Taking frequent breaks in shaded areas to allow the body to cool down when carrying out demanding physical activities.
• Wearing light and breathable clothing unless the job required PPE.
• Recognizing signs and symptoms of heat stress and seeking immediate remedies.
• Staying informed on heat waves updates and weather alerts.
Heat stress is a serious health concern affecting communities worldwide. As temperatures continue to rise, it is imperative to prioritize measures to reduce its impact. Implementing preventive strategies and raising awareness, allows better management of the risks associated with Heat Stress and safeguard the health and well-being at workplaces.
At 4S, we help organizations and individuals by providing training on the risks of work-related heat stress, as well as the best practices to control and prevent heat-stress including the Legal Requirements of the Employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.