Everything You Need to Know About Heat Stress

November 24, 2018 4 min read

woman drinking water under the sunThe human body is generally very good at managing its own temperature. We shiver when we’re too cold and sweat when we’re too hot.

In general, our body does a fantastic job at taking care of us in a range of climates. However, this regulator isn’t foolproof, and if we’re not careful in difficult conditions, heat stress can occur. Here’s our full heat stress guide to keep you, and your employees, safe as the temperature rises.

 

How Does our Body React to Heat?

When your body feels the temperature rising, it increases blood flow to the skin’s surface, carrying the heat in your body up towards your skin. This causes us to sweat and as the sweat evaporates, we start to cool down.

It’s not just sweat that helps to lower the body’s temperature. If our skin temperature is warmer than outside (which is often the case in cooler climates), then we will be able to lose heat externally without sweating. However, if the outside temperature is too hot, the body relies solely on sweating to cool itself down.

 

What is Heat Stress?

Heat stress occurs when the body’s natural way of cooling itself down fails - something that is commonplace in many work environments. This could happen for a number of reasons, including the temperature of the air being too hot or humid, wearing too thick clothing, dehydration, and the rate at which you are working.

While heat stress can be prevented by drinking more water, taking a break or removing a layer of clothing, this isn’t possible in many workplaces. If employees continue to work while suffering from heat stress, things can turn nasty very quickly, and heat stroke can occur. In this situation, the sufferer will become confused, upset and weak - and may eventually pass out. They will need immediate medical attention.


What are the Symptoms?

heat stress in wheat
The symptoms of heat stress are often not noticed or, if they are, they may not be put down to the heat. That’s why it’s essential that you familiarise yourself with the symptoms and take steps to make your workplace safe for employees.

Heat stress generally occurs when people work too hard for too long in hot conditions. If they are wearing heavy protective clothing they will be even more at risk, and if they are not able to expel heat through sweat or the skin’s surface, their core temperature will rise. Producing even more sweat will eventually lead to dehydration and the body will be totally unable to cool itself down.

Typical symptoms of heat stress include an inability to concentrate, muscle cramps, heat rash, severe thirst and even fainting. If the heat stress is not treated, it will develop into heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stroke include hot dry skin, convulsions, and confusion. It’s essential not to let it get to this point, as death from heatstroke is common.


What Industries Should be Most Concerned?

Hot, intense environments are likely to product heat stress in employees. Industries in which heat stress often occurs include mines, anywhere with confined spaces, compressed air tunnels, nuclear power plants, brick firing plants, bakeries and kitchens, and boiler rooms.

While hot temperatures are standard in these industries, employers must be on guard and aware of any signs of heat stress. They must carry out a risk assessment which takes into account the rate of work, employee clothing and workplace conditions - including temperature, air flow, humidity and proximity to a source of heat.

You should also talk to your employees to find out whether they believe they are suffering from heat stress, and to pick up on any symptoms they might not attribute to the temperature.


How Can You Prevent Heat Stress in the Workplace

man splashing water into face
Preventing heat stress in the workplace can be easy once you know what to look out for. The first step involves training your employees and alerting them to the risks of working in hot conditions. Employees should be able to recognize the early signs. They should also be encouraged to take regular breaks and stay hydrated - ideally drinking a cup of water every 20 minutes.

The second step is to focus on employee clothing and equipment. If possible, employees should be wearing light, summer clothing. However, in the workplace this often isn’t possible. Kitting out your employees with equipment and clothing specifically designed to keep them both protected, and cool, is one of the best ways to prevent heat stress. At Brite Safety we have a huge range of equipment to keep employees cool, including neck shades, cooling vests and sweat wicking bandanas.

Other ways to prevent heat stress include allowing workers to acclimatize to their conditions. The body will eventually adapt and get used to more difficult conditions, but it’s up to you to make sure you know who is acclimatized and who isn’t. If it’s possible for you to change the temperature of the workplace - for example providing fans, then this should be done. More strenuous work should be scheduled for cooler times of the day, and encourage your employees to keep fit so that they don’t get too hot too fast.

Be aware of which employees are most at risk of heat stress. People suffering from illnesses or taking specific medication will be more at risk, and any employees who are pregnant should be monitored carefully. Finally, ensure you measure the temperature and humidity of the workplace. Temperature and humidity monitors can be bought cheaply and will let you know when your workplace is most at risk. If the temperature exceeds 30 degrees celcius or the humidity exceeds 35, you should be alert for symptoms of heat stress and encourage your employees to take breaks.


Prevent Heat Stress with Brite Safety

At Brite Safety, we offer a range of equipment and clothing to help you control heat stress in the workplace. Being aware of the risks and making the workplace as comfortable as possible for your employees will not only make them happier, it can also save lives. The dangers of heat stress cannot be underplayed, and tackling it head-on as an employer is the only way to keep your staff safe. Check out Brite Safety for our full range of great value and effective equipment designed to prevent heat stress in the workplace.

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