Each year thousands of employees suffer the adverse effects of heat stress, whether they work outdoors under the hot summer sun, or indoors with equipment and machinery that give off high levels of heat. These employees need to know how to recognize and prevent heat stress and other heat-related health problems.
What is heat stress?
Heat stress, as defined by the Canadian Center of Occupational Health and Safety, is “the net [overall] heat load to which a worker may be exposed from the combined contributions of metabolic heat, environmental factors (i.e., air temperature, humidity, air movement, and radiant heat), and clothing requirements.” Simply put, the body can’t regulate its internal temperature due to the exposure of high temperatures or intense heat.
Heat stress occurs most commonly when working in hot environments, while being exposed to high temperatures for an extended amount of time. It can also occur when individuals aren’t properly hydrated or rested.
Symptoms of heat stress
The symptoms of heat stress can vary in range. From mild discomfort to severe illness, it is important to recognize the signs and ensure proper action is taken. Some symptoms may include:
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid heartbeat
Since heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, it is imperative to seek medical assistance when signs or symptoms are present.
How to prevent heat stress
The best way to avoid heat stress, is to ensure proper precautions are taken to avoid experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms.
To avoid heat stress, keep these three tips in mind:
Staying hydrated is key, especially when working or taking part in activities in extreme temperatures. Therefore, it is important to drink plenty of fluids, specifically water, to keep your body hydrated. Since your body loses water through sweating, replenishing these fluids is key to maintain your body’s cooling mechanisms. It is best to avoid caffeine and alcohol in high temperatures, as they can contribute to dehydration.
When working in a hot environment, utilize your breaks. If possible, seek out a cool area, which may include a shaded spot, or an air-conditioned building. Your body requires time to recover from extreme temperatures, and by allowing your body time to rest and cool down, you lower your risk of overheating.
It is a good idea to participate in outdoor activities during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening, and avoid prolonged amounts of time outside during the hottest part of the day.
Wear appropriate clothing
When dressing for extreme temperatures, wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing. This allows for air circulation, which helps encourage sweat evaporation. You also want to consider wearing light coloured clothes, as they reflect the heat and sunlight rather than absorbing it.
Always apply sunscreen, whether it is sunny or cloudy, to avoid sunburn, and wear a hat to help protect your face and head. Sunglasses are also important to protect your eyes.
Heat stress should be taken seriously, and taking preventative measures will help ensure you stay safe and healthy this summer. By understanding and responding to the signs and symptoms, you are better equipped to minimize the impact of heat stress in the workplace and at home.