Heat Stress Prevention – Safety Guide
Heat Stress Prevention – Safety Guide

Heat stress is a common – and dangerous – safety hazard for many industrial workers.

The prevalence of exposure to heat stress is common in many occupations, performed both indoors and outdoors. This Safety Guide will show you how to prevent this dangerous occupational hazard and identify the symptoms of heat stress – in yourself and in your colleagues. Millions of U.S. and Canadian workers are exposed to heat when on the job. Although prevention from heat stress is simple, thousands become ill from occupational heat exposure every year. According to statistics from the National Weather Service, extreme heat was listed as the third highest weather-related cause of death in 2019 in the United States alone.
Workers who are exposed to extreme indoor/outdoor heat are at increased risk of heat stress.

According to another study on work-related heat stress specifically in the automotive industry, large-scale industries do not control heat stress hazards adequately. Based on this study, over 28% of workers employed in various processes of the automotive industry were at risk of heat stress-related health issues. The study emphasises the need to recognise heat stress as an important occupational health risk in both indoor and outdoor environments. The OSHA confirms that hazardous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors and during any season, making it a year-round concern for many workers.

Factors that contribute to heat stress:

High temperature
High humidity
Direct sun exposure
Lack of fluid consumption
Limited ventilation (no air conditioning or wind)
Physical exertion
Heavy clothing/equipment

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

It’s important for workers to be able to identify even the subtlest symptoms of heat-related illnesses. This can save their lives or the lives of fellow colleagues. Keep reading to learn about the symptoms and recommended treatments for the most common heat-related illnesses.

  1. Heat Stroke: According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. When heat stroke occurs, the body’s temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit within a matter of minutes, and the body is unable to cool itself. This can cause permanent damage or death if the individual does not receive immediate medical attention.

    Symptoms to look out for:

    • Slurred speech, confusion
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Hot, dry skin
    • Sweating
    • Seizures
    • Very high body temperature

    Treatment:

    • Call 911
    • Move the worker to a cool, shaded area
    • Cool the workers with cold water, an ice bath or cold wet cloths on the skin (head, neck, armpits, and groin)
  2. Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses excessive amounts of water and salt, usually through heavy sweating. Heat exhaustion is most likely to affect older individuals and people with high blood pressure.

    Symptoms to look out for:

    • Headache
    • Nausea and dizziness
    • Weakness
    • Thirst
    • Heavy sweating
    • Elevated body temperature

    Treatment:

    • Call 911 or take worker to a nearby emergency room
    • Move the worker to a cool, shaded area
    • Provide the worker with plenty of liquids to drink
    • Cool the worker with cold compresses or cold water on the head, face, and neck
  3. Rhabdomyolysis: Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo) is a medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion. Rhabdo causes the breakdown and death of muscle. When muscle tissue dies, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream, which can cause irregular heart rhythms, seizures, and kidney damage.

    Symptoms to look out for:

    • Muscle cramps or pain
    • Very dark urine
    • Weakness
    • Individuals may be asymptomatic

    Treatment:

    • Stop activity immediately
    • Drink plenty of water
    • Take worker to nearby emergency room
    • Have blood tested for rhabdomyolysis
  4. Heat Cramps: Heat cramps can affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels, which can cause painful cramps.

     

    Symptoms to look out for:

    • Muscle cramps or pain
    • Spasms in abdomen, arms or legs

    Treatment:

    • Drink water
    • Drink or eat something with carbohydrates and electrolytes (such as sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes
    • Seek medical help if the worker has heart problem, cramps that do not subside after 1 hour, is on a low sodium diet
  5. Heat Rash: Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

     

    Symptoms to look out for:

    • Red clusters of pimples or blisters on neck, upper chest, groin, under breasts and in elbow creases

    Treatment:

    • Keep the rash area dry
    • Apply powder, no ointments, or creams
While it’s important to understand the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and what actions to take if a worker notices these symptoms on themselves or others, it’s also important to understand how to prevent heat stress in the first place. This responsibility lays heavily on the employer, who must ensure that employees have access to the right training and tools needed to stay safe in extreme heat.
Every year, Canadian and US workers die on the job because of heat-related causes.

Steps to Prevent Heat Stress

  1. Hydration: Workers should drink an appropriate amount of water or other liquids to keep themselves hydrated. Certain beverages, such as caffeine and soft drinks, can lead to dehydration and should be avoided. Workers should drink one (1) liter of water every (1) hour, which is about one (1) cup every fifteen (15) minutes. For more specific recommendation on hydration, workers can check out this NIOSH Hydration Fact Sheet. Employers also have a responsibility to provide workers with access to cool, potable water and encourage workers to hydrate themselves.
  2. HVAC cooling and ventilation: Cooling the air in industrial settings is extremely important – but may pose some challenges. Indoor spaces may be cooled by using window fans and/or portable A/C units, reducing radiant heat by turning unused equipment off and reducing humidity with dehumidifiers. Steam and water vapour can also be eliminated by sealing leaks, covering up open water tanks, and keeping floors dry.
  3. Overheating equipment: In addition to keeping employees cool, equipment should be kept from overheating. Overheated equipment can damage not only the equipment itself, but employees who are working in close proximity to the equipment.
  4. Modified work schedules/ rest breaks:Employers should encourage workers to take appropriate rest breaks when working in hot conditions. Fully shaded or air-conditioned areas are ideal for rest breaks. Employers can also modify work schedules to reduce workers’ exposure to heat. This can include assigning additional workers to the task to shorten individual exposure to heat.
  5. Training: Employers should tailor worker training to worksite and weather conditions. Employers should provide heat stress training for all workers about recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and the steps to reduce risk, the proper care and use of heat-protective clothing and equipment, the importance of acclimatization, the importance of immediately reporting symptoms and the effects of other factors such as existing health issues, hydration, and rest breaks.
  6. Monitoring symptoms: Employees and supervisors should be keeping an eye on each other. When working together, colleagues can monitor each other for signs and symptoms of heat stress. Having an emergency plan in place can also help employees know what to do, who to contact and how to administer first aid, if necessary.
  7. Emergency Planning: A definitive plan for dealing with emergencies should be a key element of workplace healthy and safety programs. Emergency planning allows workers to have guidance during an emergency and allows them to identify hazardous conditions that could aggravate the emergency situation. Additionally, an emergency plan promotes safety awareness and demonstrates your organization’s commitment to worker safety.
At TEAM Group, we understand how challenging work conditions can be for employees working in industrial settings. That’s why we make it our priority to ensure the health & safety of our employees through appropriate training. In 2016, TEAM launched the Safety Badge Program which promotes a positive and continuous improvement of our safety culture. The Safety Badge Profiles ensure employees stay up to date on their required training. In compliance with health, safety, and environmental requirements, technicians must always keep their badge on themselves while on duty. Our campaign to safety has helped us set an international standard among our peers in the industrial cleaning sector.
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