Is it Too Darn Hot for Your Business

Is it Too Darn Hot for Your Business

072216_Thinkstock_155366999_lores_KKEnvironment Canada has been issuing heat warnings… Quebec construction workers halted a job on a hospital for a day … some city pools are extending their hours and community centres are offering ‘cool places’ where people can take a break.

A heat dome from the Midwest of the United States recently brought scorching hot temperatures to much of Canada, with daytime highs hitting a humidex rating of around 40. Environment Canada uses humidex ratings to inform the general public when conditions of heat and humidity are possibly uncomfortable. When the humidex rating range is 40-45, it’s very uncomfortable and you should avoid exertion. Above 45, conditions are considered dangerous.

The Most Vulnerable

The agency issues heat warnings when it’s concerned about those who are most at risk from heat. These include very young children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases. In the worst case scenario, people can die.

If you are an employer, you have a legal obligation under Occupational Health and Safety Regulations to take every reasonable precaution to protect your workers from the heat. This includes developing policies and procedures to protect employees who work in surroundings that are hot due to processes or the weather.

Heat-related conditions can occur in many work environments, but particularly at risk are construction workers and others who work outdoors, as well as employees in kitchens, bakeries, boiler plants, smelters, foundries and those who work with heavy equipment.

For outdoor workers, direct sunlight is the main source of heat. In mines, geothermal gradients and equipment contribute to heat exposure.

Don’t Just Look at the Thermometer

You can’t predict heat illnesses by the temperature on the thermometer. That only measures air temperature. To get an accurate view of the heat load, also consider:

  • Relative humidity, which means the amount of moisture in the air. The more moisture, the more heat the air holds. High humidity makes it difficult for sweat to evaporate, which is how people cool themselves.
  • Air movement inside, or a breeze outside, can evaporate more sweat, which acts to absorb heat and cool the body.
  • Radiant heat coming from machines and furnaces can add a great deal of heat to a person’s body.

The two most common heat-related conditions are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Here are their symptoms and treatments.

Heat Stroke

This is the most serious heat-related health problem for workers. Signs include:

High body temperature (usually higher than 40C) Lack of sweating, although with exertional heat stroke there may be profuse sweating
Red, hot and dry skin Nausea or vomiting
Rapid heartbeat Rapid shallow breathing
Confusion, disorientation or staggering Seizures
Dizziness or light-headedness Muscle weakness or cramps
Hallucinations Unconsciousness

Treatment: Immediate medical attention is required. Victims of heat stroke can die unless treated promptly. After calling for medical help, Health Canada recommends the victim be moved to a cool area. Soak clothing with cool water and fan vigorously to increase cooling. Prompt first aid can prevent permanent injury to the brain and other organs.

Heat Exhaustion

This results from loss of fluid through sweating when a worker has failed to drink enough fluids or take in enough salt. The worker still sweats but experiences extreme weakness or fatigue, giddiness, nausea or headache. The skin is clammy and moist, the complexion pale or flushed, and the body temperature normal or slightly higher.

Treatment: The victim should rest in a cool place and drink an electrolyte solution (a beverage used to quickly restore potassium, calcium and magnesium salts). In severe cases, victims vomit or lose consciousness and require medical assistance.

For both of these conditions, prevention is critical. Here are 5 tips to help keep your workers from suffering in the heat:

1. Provide engineering controls at points of high heat production, such as general ventilation and spot cooling by local exhaust ventilation. Shielding is required as protection from radiant heat sources. Evaporative cooling, mechanical refrigeration and cooling fans can also reduce heat. Modifying equipment, using power tools to reduce manual labor, eliminating steam leaks and wearing protective clothing can also help.

2. Provide plenty of drinking water — at least a quart per worker per hour. Train first aid personnel to recognize and treat heat-related disorders and make the names of trained staff members known to all workers. Employers should also consider an individual worker’s physical condition when determining his or her fitness for working in hot environments. Older and obese workers as well as those on some medications are at greater risk.

3. Alternate work and rest periods with longer rest periods in a cool area. Whenever possible, heavy work should be scheduled during the cooler parts of the day. Train supervisors to detect early signs of heat stress and permit workers to interrupt work if they’re extremely uncomfortable.

4. Acclimate employees to the heat through short exposures followed by longer periods in the hot environment. New employees and workers returning from an absence of two weeks or more should be allowed to acclimate for five days. This should begin with 50% of the normal workload and time exposure the first day, gradually building up to 100% on the fifth day.

5. Keep a first aid kit handy. Stock electrolyte drinks and ice packs, which need no refrigeration and become cold when the cylinder within the pack is broken. Also keep emergency medical numbers.

Educate workers so they’re aware of the need to replace fluids and salt lost through sweating. Make sure they recognize symptoms of dehydration, exhaustion, fainting, heat cramps, salt deficiency, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. And encourage workers to look out for each other in the sweltering heat.

Stay Cool Away from Work

It’s just as important to avoid the heat at home as it is at work.

Here are some tips:

  • Stay cool. Visit cool places such as malls, public recreation centres, public libraries and other air-conditioned facilities.
  • Dress light. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing. Wear a hat or take an umbrella to keep your head cool and don’t forget sunscreen.
  • Take it easy. Limit physical activities (walking, running, gardening, etc.) during the day. If rescheduling activities to dawn or dusk when it may be cooler, protect yourself with insect repellent as mosquitoes are more active at such times.
  • Keep your living space cool. Close blinds or curtains. When the temperature is cooler outside than inside, open windows to let air circulate. Use fans. Take a cool bath or shower.

And remember, never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles. Temperatures in a car can become life threatening within minutes.

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