Protecting Against Heat Stress for Workplace Safety

worker hydrating prevent heat stress

Working in the summer heat in Ontario – either outdoors or in structures that lack ventilation or HVAC systems – brings with it a need for safety precautions.

Wokers who are exposed to hot environments or to conditions than can see surges of extreme heat must be properly trained and equipped to ensure that your workplace safety is at peak levels.

In this article we will cover how heat stress can occur in the workplace; the equipment and supplies needed to protect workers who are vulnerable to heat stress; and the safety training & education that helps all staff to be proactive in the approach to protecting against heat stress.

Heat Stress in the Workplace: Roles & Conditions

Heat stress can occur when a person is exposed to either extreme heat, even for a short period of time; or to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time.

While those who work outside are clearly at risk for heat stress during the summer months, anyone whose work role entails hot conditions – such as in indoor or covered environments that do not have air conditioning or ventilation – can suffer from heat stress (occupational injury) in certain conditions.

worker collapses from heat stress

Types of heat stress include:

  • Heat stroke
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat rashes
  • Heat fatigue

Symptoms of heat stress include dizziness, physical fatigue, blurred vision, cognitive impairment, breathing difficulty and many others.

In addition to immediate symptoms, other by-products of heat stress can occur. These indirect symptoms or effects include excessive sweating, which can thus cause impaired vision, fogged up glasses, slippery hands (affecting control of vehicles or machinery) and much more.

Workers Who Are Prone to Heat Stress

In general, be it in the workplace or across society as a whole, those who tend to be more vulnerable to heat stress include people who:

  • Are 65 years of age or older
  • Are overweight
  • Have heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.
  • Take medications that heighten heat sensitivity

While you may not have workers over age 65 in your workplace, it’s statistically likely that you would have employees who are in the other three aforementioned categories. They may be more vulnerable to heat stress, whether directly on the job, or even en route to/from work or while stepping outside, etc.

worker exposed to heat stress

While employee medical history is private, it’s important to make mention of these general risks when providing workplace safety training to your staff.

Workplace Roles Vulnerable to Heat Stress

Anyone who works outside some, most or all of the time is exposed to heightened risk of heat stress in the Ontario summers. Examples of this would include construction, roofing, renovations, paving, transit, law enforcement, food service and many other work environments.

Watch for the temperature as it goes above 28 degrees Celsius, and pay attention to the humidex (heat index) as well. When Environment Canada issues a heat warning or heat advisory, they are letting you know that it’s time to step up vigilance for workplace safety with regard to heat stress.

In addition, anyone working in an environment that is not ventilated or air-conditioned can be vulnerable to heat stress – the longer the exposure to high temperatures, the higher the risk of heat stress.

Of course, even on ‘cool’ days outside, certain work environments – such as boiler rooms, mechanical rooms, welding stations and many others can become very warm and are subject to risk of heat stress.

How to Protect Against Heat Stress

The first step in protecting your staff from heat stress is to be proactive.

workers taking break prevent heat stressMake sure that all staff working outside or in high-temperature environments:

  • Are properly dressed
  • Have access to water / fluids
  • Stay properly hydrated
  • Take frequent breaks to cool down
  • Are not exerting themselves too heavily

Preparation also includes having proper gear or PPE (personal protective equipment) that is not adding excessive heat and/or offers shade or protection against heat, sun, etc. Hats and sunglasses are important.

This also includes fans and air conditioning where feasible, as well as heat conduction blocking methods.

When possible, reschedule jobs or tasks that are most vulnerable to heat stress. If planned far enough in advance, you can place certain tasks on the agenda before the summer months; or, if necessary, postpone work to either (a) after the heat wave subsides, or (b) as the summer heat begins to fade away and fall is on its way.

Discourage drinking too much caffeine, as this is a dehydrating element (as is alcohol).

Finally (but certainly not least of all), make sure you have an effective monitoring program against heat stress. Watch out for the signs of heat stress or heat exhaustion, which include heightened heart rate / pulse, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, fatigue, vomiting, etc.

Make sure all staff – not just the ones most vulnerable – are aware of heat stress signs & symptoms – and that they are empowered with proper response (call 9-1-1… give water & cooling to victim… summon supervisor, etc.).

Training for Prevention of Heat Stress

All of the above steps can be included in a module on heat stress that is part of an effective, overall workplace safety training program.

At Advanced Consulting & Training, we provide safety training for companies and workplaces across Ontario, as well as consulting services for employers who are handling their own safety training.

To find out more about how ACT can help you, contact us today.