What? Heat Stress is the impact a worker feels from doing their work – including environmental factors (temperature, humidity, radiant heat etc) and clothing requirements.
What can happen? Work involving hot temperatures can lead to workers feeling physical discomfort through to conditions that are life threatening. These can include muscle cramps and dizziness, heat rash, dehydration, fainting, increased heart and breathing rate, weakness and lack of energy, poor performance / increased response time, and becoming moody and short tempered (I admit sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference if you already have moody and short tempered people!!). If untreated, this can lead to more the more serious stage of ‘heat stroke’, which occurs when the body’s temperature rises above 39oC. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can result in death.
Are some people at a higher risk of developing a heat-induced illness? Yes! These include workers who are physically unfit, overweight or obese, the elderly, and those with heart conditions. People who are not ‘acclimatised’ to the work environment, or are not adequately hydrated (ie: haven’t had enough water) also stand at a higher risk. Some medications can also affect the ability of workers to maintain their core body temperature.
What can I do to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses? Quite a lot actually! Why not try to get rid of the source of heat such as shielding of radiant sources if that’s applicable. You can increase the airflow to the working area, you can use air conditioning, maybe think about starting work early in the cooler part of the day and use naturally shaded areas. Cut down on the amount of coffee you drink, and stay clear of energy drinks and alcohol the night before. You could also consider work-rest regimes and rotating with co-workers so the work load is shared.
One of the most important aspects of preventing heat stress is to make sure that you are aware of the signs and symptoms and know how to control it – so stay hydrated (ie: drink plenty of water) and work at a self-paced level – don’t overdo it!
Where can I go for more information? Ask your friendly Occupational Hygienist!