How to manage heat stress in the workplace

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Free resources: Download and share safety talk and presenter guide

Cover page of Heat Stress Awareness Guide

Heat-related illnesses are cause for concern, and with summer almost here, it’s time for a refresher on the best ways to beat the heat at work. Keep in mind that severe heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion can occur for several days after dehydration from exposure to high temperatures, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, whether you work outdoors as a tree planter, inside a mill, or toil year-round in toasty places like bakeries, foundries, or underground mines.

Top 10 warning signs of heat stroke

Symptoms of heat stress can range from mild heat rash or sunburn to severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

  1. Extremely high body temperature
  2. Hot, dry, skin – an inability to cool the body through perspiration may cause the skin to feel dry
  3. Increased heart and respiration rates as blood pressure drops and the heart attempts to maintain adequate circulation
  4. Throbbing headache, nausea or vomiting due to dehydration
  5. Weakness, fainting, or dizziness – especially if standing position is assumed quickly – due to low blood pressure from dehydration
  6. Muscle cramps
  7. Dark-coloured urine – a sign of dehydration
  8. Confused, hostile, or seemingly intoxicated behaviour
  9. Pale or bluish skin colour in advanced cases due to constricted blood vessels
  10. Seizures or unconsciousness

What to do if you suspect heat exhaustion or stroke

  • Get medical aid
  • Move to air-conditioned environment or at least a cool, shaded area
  • Loosen or remove unnecessary clothing
  • Drink plenty of cool water
  • Fan and spray with cool water

How to protect yourself against heat stress

Sometimes it’s difficult to self-recognize heat stress, so it’s important to use a buddy system at work to keep an eye on each other and spot potential heat stress symptoms.

  • Stay fit
  • When possible, avoid working in hot areas and in full sun
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Use sunblock with at least SPF 15 and re-apply every two hours
  • Cover up with long-sleeve shirt, hat
  • Increase fluid intake
  • Avoid alcohol and excessive caffeine
  • Reduce activity when exposed to heat
  • Use buddy system to watch for symptoms
  • Increase salt intake (if doctor approves)

How employers can protect workers against heat stress

  • Train workers in heat stress awareness and first aid
  • Provide drinking water
  • Provide rest breaks and air conditioned rest areas
  • Encourage workers to stay fit; to drink water
  • Indoors, provide fans for air movement
  • Use machines to reduce physical demands of work
  • Schedule most strenuous work to cooler times of the day
  • Measure daily Humidex ratings and have a Humidex Heat Stress Response Plan
  • Have a heat stress prevention program specific to your workplace – see pages 8-11 of the Heat Stress Awareness Guide for a sample heat stress policy

Free Resources

Heat Stress Toolkit - Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario

Managing and preventing heat stress in the workplace - Health and safety conference presentation

Heat stress guideline – Ontario Ministry of Labour

Mining safety report with new heat stress standard released in Ontario

Humidex Calculator - Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers

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