How To Protect Your Employees From Heat Stress This Summer
Posted on 14th Jul, 2017 | By Lorretta Tatham
In the last few weeks we’ve already seen some staggering temperatures here in Britain. Although it’s fair to say those temperature changes can be intermittent, it’s still wise to take precautions against them throughout the summer, as heat stress can potentially pose a serious threat to your employees.
What Is Heat Stress?
Heat stress is a term applied to a range of conditions that affect the body due to high heat levels. If the body can’t shed enough heat, it’ll store it instead; essentially, the body is under heat stress when it’s unable to regulate its core temperature (either through sweating or other means) resulting in this core temperature becoming dangerously high. Symptoms of heat stress can include profuse sweating, cramps and exhaustion.
How Can Heat Stress Affect Employees?
Heat stress can actually affect different people in different ways. Some people are more susceptible to it than others, which is down to a range of factors including:
- Their age (older people are more vulnerable)
- Their weight (overweight people can be similarly at risk)
- If they have a heart condition or high blood pressure
- If they’re reliant on temperature-sensitive medications
Heat stress conditions can also be exacerbated in certain jobs where employees might be exposed to high heat levels by default; for example factory workers, miners, farmers, construction workers and boiler room workers. (In fact, anyone in a manual labour position is often more vulnerable to extreme temperature shifts.) Though we’re arguably less consistently at risk here in Britain than those in, say, Australia or certain states in the US, heat stress can still cause employees to suffer:
- Muscle cramps
- Heat rash
- Difficulty concentrating
- Severe thirst
- Episodes of fainting
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
These last two symptoms are particularly dangerous, and in extreme cases can result in death.
What You Can Do To Prevent Heat Stress In The Workplace
The good news is that employers can take a wide range of steps to minimise the danger to employees. These steps come under the broad categories of:
- Carrying out a risk assessment
- Preventing dehydration
- Providing personal protective equipment
- Changing work practices where necessary
Carrying out a risk assessment
The first step is to conduct a thorough, detailed inspection of the working environment and processes for your employees, identifying potentially dangerous areas and where changes can be made. Throughout your inspection you should look out for opportunities to control the temperature as finely as you can. For example, by using fans or air conditioning, or using physical barriers to reduce exposure to sunlight and radiant heat.
As part of this risk assessment, it’s also key to identify workers who might be at risk – for example, those older or with pre-existing conditions – and continually monitor them for any signs of exhaustion or deteriorating health. With many heat stress conditions, speed of response can often be a deciding factor in quick and successful recoveries.
One of the first major reactions the human body has to high temperatures is sweating, which means that it’s losing fluids that must be replaced. It’s important for employers to ensure that their employees have sufficient access to plentiful water, to prevent illness by dehydration. If you think it prudent, don’t hesitate to regularly remind employees to hydrate themselves, especially if they’re working in an environment where opportunities to do so might be limited (for example, in asbestos removal and similarly hazardous environments).
Providing personal protective equipment
In sensitive or hazardous environments such as those mentioned above, normal personal protective equipment can put the employee at risk of overheating exceptionally quickly. Specialised lightweight versions of PPE are available and strongly recommended in such cases – it provides a similar level of protection while still guarding the employee against the physical or gaseous hazards they might normally face (such as asbestos fibres).
Changing work practices where necessary
Sometimes it’s vital for employers to take a flexible approach to working practices, if the potential is there to damage employee health. Don’t be afraid to reschedule work for earlier or later in the day, where temperatures are less intense or there’s more opportunity for employees to get themselves into shade where they can. Schedule regular, mandatory breaks (and ensure employees stick to them), and allow your workers to become gradually acclimatised to hot conditions over time.
Effectively protecting your employees from heat stress is mostly a matter of vigilance and preparedness – from both you and your employees. As long as you put the precautions in place to protect them, and they’re proactive in taking advantage of them, it should head off many major threats to human health before they have a chance to develop.
At Browns Safety, your safety is our priority. We run a number of health and safety courses to help guarantee the physical wellbeing of employees and employers like. You can call 01282 615517 to book your place, or make an enquiry from one of our individual course pages.
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