There is an increase in time spent outside during the summer months, whether for work of recreation. While the sun has many health benefits, it is important to be mindful of the effect the sun and heat has on the body. Outdoor workers are very susceptible to heat-related illness or heat stress disorders. It is important for workers and employers to be aware of the dangers of working in extreme heat and the ways to prevent heat-related illnesses in the workplace.
Before working outdoors, understand the steps to stay safe outdoors and/or hot environments and recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses like heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
SAFETY TIPS FOR WORKING IN HEAT
There is a reason this tip is repeated time and time again. Hydration is crucial when working in heat as it aids in maintaining your body temperature. Heat and physical activity causes the body to lose water through perspiration. The human body produces sweat to keep the body cool, however, if the water within the body must be replenished or else temperature will begin to rise.
To combat this, it’s important to always keep a bottle of water on hand when working outdoors. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommend drinking 1 cup of water every 15 minutes, which is about a litre every hour. Avoiding drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol is also recommended when working in extreme heat.
DRESS LIGHT & PAY ATTENTION TO THE HEAT INDEX
If possible, wear loose fitting, light coloured clothing when working in heat. Keep in mind that outdoor workers who are required to wear protective gear or personal protective equipment (PPE) are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, so it is important to dress appropriately for the scope of work.
Additionally, when dressing for the weather, pay attention to the heat index. While it may be a certain temperature outside, it may feel hotter or colder on the human body. This is the heat index (also called apparent temperature). The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body, when the humidity is combined with the air temperature.
WEAR SUNSCREEN/SUN WHEN WORKING IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT
The skin is our largest organ. It is equally important to protect your body on the outside as much as the inside when working in the sun. Use sunscreen to protect the skin and body against sunburns, irritation and many forms of skin cancer.
Be equally mindful of the sun’s effects on vision. Wear workplace-approved, protective sunglasses with UV protection to protect the eyes while working in the sun.
TAKE BREAKS & SCHEDULE WORK AROUND PEAK HEAT HOURS
Take frequent breaks to drink water, have a snack, and get out of the heat. Especially when working in direct sunlight. Find an air-conditioned building or a shady area to cool off for a few minutes every hour. Additionally, try to avoid scheduling strenuous tasks between 11 AM and 4 pm when the sun’s rays are at their peak.
TAKE TIME TO GET ACCLIMATED TO THE HEAT
Do you ever wonder how workers spend all day in the heat? Along with following the tips above, many outdoor workers become acclimated with to the hot weather. As workers spend more time outdoors, their bodies slowly build a tolerance to working in extreme heat. This process is called acclimatization.
According to the OSHA, 50% to 70% of heat-related outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to build a tolerance to the heat gradually over time. If possible, new workers should slowly build up this tolerance by beginning with an initial exposure of 20% exposure and slowly increasing by a maximum of 20% each day. If there is a drastic spike in temperature, all workers should adjust by cutting their time outside in half and slowly increasing their workload back to their regular schedules over a few days.
DANGERS OF WORKING IN THE HEAT
There are two significant dangers that can occur when working in extreme heat without taking the proper measures to maintain the body’s temperature: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE HEAT EXHAUSTION?
Symptoms of heat exhaustion:
- excessive sweating
- cold, pale, or moist skin
- muscle cramps
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE HAS HEAT EXHAUSTION
If you suspect someone has a heat stroke, move them to a cool and shaded location.
- Remove as much clothing as possible, and apply wet cloth, or ice to the face, hands, and neck to cool them down. (Alternatively, spray the body with cold water).
- Hydrate them (water, juice, or sports drinks)
- Request medical attention, if symptoms persist.
NEED AN ASSESSMENT FOR A NON-EMERGENT ILLNESS OR INJURY?
PRECEDE HAS GOT YOU COVERED.
At Precede, we take the health and safety of our clients and their employees seriously. Our non-emergent* injury assessment program allows our clients and their employees to be assessed by a Registered Nurse quickly and efficiently. We provide fast and effective medical evaluations to make sure your team is 100% when they step back on-site or into the workplace.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A HEAT STROKE?
Symptoms of heat stroke:
- confusion or strange behaviour
- loss of consciousness
- hot, dry skin
- high body temperature
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE HAS A HEAT STROKE?
If you suspect someone has a heat stroke, call 911 immediately.
WORKPLACE MINOR INJURY ASSESSMENT PROGRAM
After a minor injury or illness on the job, your employee may feel alright– we want to make sure of it. Precede’s non-emergent injury assessment program allows any employee on your team to be assessed by a registered nurse to ensure that they are ready to get back on the job. Our program helps catch and prevent long-term illnesses/injuries of employees, eliminate increased wait times at the ER, and reduce WCB claims and costs. For more information, visit our Non-Emergent Injury Assessment Program* page and let’s get started to a more efficient workplace injury prevention and management plan.
*Precede’s NEIA Program is for minor injuries and illnesses only. If an employee needs immediate medical attention, please call 9-1-1. Our nurses are obligated to act in the best interest of the employees’ health and may advise seeking emergency medical attention based on their assessment.