Heat stress usually occurs in the workplace because the workplace itself is too hot, the employee is over-exerting themselves or a combination of the two. Excessive humidity and the type of clothing worn to carry out a particular job can also be contributory factors.
How Does Heat Stress Occur?When your body overheats, it reacts to the increase in temperature by producing more sweat in order to expel the excess heat which helps to regulate your body temperature. However, if your body is gaining more heat than it can expel, this ‘regulation’ mechanism starts to fail which can then result in heat stress.
The Symptoms of Heat StressSymptoms of heat stress can include:
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Nausea and giddiness
- Excessive thirst
- Convulsions and confusion
- Ultimately, heat stroke
Who is Most at Risk?Obviously, those who are employed in naturally hot environments such as foundries, bakeries and the like are more likely to be exposed to the kind of conditions that might induce heat stress. However, it’s these types of occupations which tend to adapt to the conditions better as they tend to be more aware of the problems that overheating can cause. So, whether it’s removing clothing or wearing lighter clothing, taking in more liquids and keeping well hydrated, taking shorter bur more frequent ‘breaks’ just to get out of the immediate heat every hour or so or having decent ventilation and air conditioning systems - people who are exposed to hot working environments on a regular basis usually cope better. Often, it will be those who are generally not working in an overly hot environment but find themselves in one due to seasonal changes in temperatures, e.g. whenever we get a sudden ‘heat wave’ in the summer months, who can be most at risk.
The Best Way of Preventing Heat StressIt might seem obvious but naturally the most effective way to reduce the possibility of incurring heat stress is to reduce or eliminate the source of heat. That isn’t always possible in the likes of a foundry, for example, but what is important when it comes to risk assessment is that employers have put in place the correct procedures to manage the effects of the heat. Providing a plentiful supply of cool water to drink, clothing which is light and breathable and perhaps re-adjusting the times and frequencies when workers take breaks and giving them a cooler area in which they can escape the heat are some ways of reducing the risk. Some companies will even adjust shift patterns where possible. It’s also important to ensure that your workforce has been trained to recognise the symptoms of heat stress and what they can do to help themselves as well as knowing the basic First Aid principles should they encounter a colleague who has collapsed due to heat stress.
It’s also important to determine which workers are suited to working in these kinds of environments and which are not. Allowing workers to get slowly acclimatised is far better than simply thrusting them in to a situation in which they’ve never had any previous experience of. Employers also need to be aware of the increased risks that prolonged exposure to excess heat can cause to Pregnant Women and those who suffer from any kind of heart condition.