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Comfort - 2 min read - 20 August 2021

Causes of heat stress and how to prevent it

As the weather in countries in Asia and the Pacific is getting warmer, the risks of heat stress and heat stroke increase. Workers who are working in outdoor environments like in the utilities, construction industries, oil & gas, mining are at a greater risk. High temperatures on the job can make professionals miserable. It is important to make your employees aware of the risks of heat stress and how to properly mitigate them to stay healthy and productive.

Know the Causes of Heat Stress

Heat stress occurs when your body is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. Normally, the body cools itself by sweating, but sometimes sweating is not enough and the body temperature keeps rising.

Signs of heat stress can include heavy sweating, tiredness, fatigue, headaches, flu-like symptoms, cramping, dizziness, fainting and more. Not only is heat stress a health hazard, but workers also suffering from heat exhaustion are at greater risk for accidents since they are less alert and may not be able to concentrate on their job.

While the risk of heat exhaustion increases during the summer months, there are many different factors that contribute to this hazard.

Figure 1. Heat-related illness risk factors (NIOSH 2016)

Overheating can be caused by several factors - alone or in combination.

  1. Hot Environments: This includes both indoor and outdoor work conditions in a hot environment for long hours or workers who work close to hot machinery.
  2. Heavy-Exertion: Body temperature can increase easier when workers have longer and more physically intense the workload. It is important to take frequent breaks to give their body rest.
  3. Medication & Alcohol: Certain medications and even recent alcohol consumption can make workers more susceptible to heat illness. You cannot prevent workers from taking medication and alcohol, but you can make them aware of their own risk factors.
  4. Dehydration: Stay properly hydrated is a key factor in keeping workers safe from heat stress.
  5. Health Conditions: If your workers have previously experienced a heat illness or live with a chronic health condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity, these kinds of conditions can impact the way their body cools itself down and you need to make them aware of this risk.
  6. Provide Comfortable PPE: While PPE is not the main contributing factor to heat stress, it can play an important role in risk management. If you have employees who must wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts or arc-flash and flame-resistant (AFR) clothing to protect them from other workplace hazards, the potential for heat stress is even greater. Previously flame-resistant clothing had a reputation for being hot and heavy. Over the past several years new innovations in fiber and fabric technology have been created. Now higher protection does not mean heavier fabric weight. The fabric constructions can be crafted to allow better airflow and moisture-wicking materials to encourage moisture evaporation. Above all, be sure you are supplying the most comfortable protective clothing possible while keeping your workers safe.

Overall, it is important to keep heat stress at top of mind for on-the-job hazards. It is preventable with an education and steps that you and your employees can take to keep everyone safe. Employees and supervisors should be trained in the prevention and first aid of heat-related illness, as well as how to recognize symptoms of heat stress and heat-related illness — including  heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rash, and heatstroke — in themselves and others.

Reference:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2016-106/pdfs/2016-106.pdf
  • https://www.osha.gov/otm/section-3-health-hazards/chapter-4

TOPICS: Comfort , Industrial safety , HSE