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Industrial safety - 3 min read - 06 January 2023

The Role of FR Fabrics In Mitigating Heat Stress

Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat stress. Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes.

This blog will teach you the signs of heat stress, the steps you can take to avoid it, and the right fabric to keep your workers safe.

7 symptoms of heat stress

When heat stress is left unattended, it can lead to fatal conditions. As such, early detection is vital.

These are the major symptoms to look out for that may indicate the onset of heat stress: 

  • Cool, moist skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Lethargy

These symptoms are often caused by other events, such as exhaustion, but the onset of these symptoms should never be taken lightly.

What causes heat stress

Heat stress occurs when our body temperature rises and a body cannot cool down by itself. This occurs in any of the following conditions (or due to a combination of them): 

  • High air temperatures
  • Radiant heat sources
  • High humidity
  • Direct physical contact with hot objects
  • Strenuous physical activities 

These factors all increase our body temperature and add to the possibility of heat stress occurring. An important contributing factor that often gets little consideration is the role incorrect fabrics used in workwear can play in increased body temperatures.

How to avoid heat stress by choosing the right fabric

Choosing the right fabric for your worker’s PPE clothing can play a vital part in preventing heat stress. The following key aspects should all be considered when looking for FR garments that help mitigate heat stress. 

Breathability - Protective wear fabric needs to be breathable to avoid heat being trapped inside the garment. With FR fabrics created specifically to keep threats out, careful design is needed to allow heat to escape out of the garment. 

Moisture management - The absorption of sweat is important in keeping skin cool. With moisture-wicking and evaporative technology, moisture is pulled to the outer layer of fabric, off of the skin. This evaporation process cools down the wearer. 

Drying time - Moisture-dense fabrics inhibit breathability and add to heat build-up. However, with moisture-wicking, sweat is pulled to the surface of the fabric and allows for optimal drying time. 

Fabric weight - Even with moisture evaporation minimizing unnecessary weight, heavyweight fabrics lead to increased lethargy. Finding lightweight fabrics helps to relieve the stress on wearers’ bodies and helps to minimize the exertion that adds to heat stress. 

When PPE garments are uncomfortable, wearers often put themselves at risk simply to avoid the discomfort. When FR garments are comfortable and help mitigate heat stress, wearer safety is easier to ensure. 

How to treat heat stress

In the event of heat stress, medical assistance should immediately be sought and action taken to battle the symptoms. 

The following actions can all help to relieve heat stress: 

  • Rest in a cool place - Get out of the sun into a shaded area if you are outdoors. Find a climate-controlled room if possible, or sit in front of a fan, lying on your back with your feet elevated.
  • Drink cool fluids - Drink cold water or electrolyte-enriched drinks.
  • Lower body temperature - Cold showers, minimizing movement, and applying a cold water-soaked towel to your body all help lower your body temperature.
  • Employ evaporation cooling - Spray your body with cool mist and let the dampness evaporate in front of a fan.
  • Loosen clothing - Remove any unnecessary clothing and make sure your clothes are lightweight and nonbinding.

The best defense against heat stress, though, is to avoid it entirely.

Taking the time to allow your body to recuperate is a vital part of reducing and managing heat stress. 

That’s why companies must always have procedures and policies in place to help reduce and manage the occurrence of heat stress. This can include 15-minute breaks in a cool environment after a 30-minute work shift, or other actions suitable to specific working environments.

How to make heat stress a manageable risk

While heat stress is a very real risk in many workplaces, it can be avoided and treated. By putting in place the necessary precautions, including the selection of appropriate FR garments, heat stress does not have to affect your workforce.

If you’re looking for FR fabric that protects your workers against the strain of their work environment, get in touch with a Tencate Protective Fabrics consultant. 

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