employee stepping outside from warehouse to get fresh air

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When we think of hazards in the workplace, we often think of fire accidents, exposure to dangerous chemicals, electrical injuries, and working at high heights. One of the lesser known hazards is heat stress, and yet, extreme soaring temperatures have the potential to be instantly damaging to workers’ safety. Continue reading to learn how to prepare for summer heat at work.

According to an article published in The New York Times, a research study based on the impact of heat stress in the workplace in the state of California has found that an additional 20,000 workplace injuries occur each year due to soaring temperatures in hot summer months.

It is not just workers who work outdoors that are affected by heat stress. Workers, who work indoors, especially those who work in environments such as warehouses and manufacturing environments, are likely to suffer from a lack of concentration, increasing the likelihood of accidents and heat-related injuries occurring.

What is heat stress?

Heat stress is considered a serious illness that results in many undesirable illnesses due to the body being unable to cool itself or maintain its normal temperature in the face of rising temperatures outside.

High humidity, rising temperatures outside, direct sun exposure, and tiring physical activity in the heat are all common causes of heat stress.

As heat stress illnesses can have fatal consequences for those affected, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises of the critical importance of protecting worker safety in the advent of extreme hot weather.

How the body reacts to heat

When temperatures rise, the body responds to this corresponding increase in heat in two ways: increasing the flow of blood to the skin’s surface and cooling the body down through sweating. When the body cannot cool itself down, it begins to show symptoms of a heat stress illness.

The following are heat-related illnesses and their symptoms:

  • Heat rash: inflamed bumps on the skin that resemble blisters that can appear anywhere on the body, itching in the affected area
  • Heat exhaustion: headaches, dizziness, clammy skin, weakness, confusion, vomiting, thirst
  • Heat stroke: passing out, confusion, seizures
  • Heat cramps: pale skin, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, fever, anxiety

Heat stroke is a severe illness that can lead to death if not identified early and treatment pursued.

The negative effect of heat stress on employees

In addition to the physical symptoms suffered by employees during a heat wave, there are adverse consequences to productivity and performance levels and safety concerns in the workplace.

Under heat stress, the body loses water and electrolytes to dangerously low levels. Dehydration and the depletion of electrolytes are responsible for the inability to focus, which decreases performance and productivity. Workers also experience poor motor control, which further compounds the problem of low productivity.

Workplace safety is a secondary concern of heat stress. Due to mental performance directly impacted by the intense heat, additional accidents in the workplace are an indirect consequence of workers affected by a heat wave.

The importance of staying hydrated for the heat stress at work

Dehydration worsens the body’s response to heat stress because of the extreme heat outside. In a dehydrated body, blood volume is lowered, which forces the heart to work harder to ensure blood and oxygen are pumped throughout the body.

Drinking plenty of water in a heat wave helps to:

  • Maintain muscle efficiency
  • Lubricates the joints
  • Help to protect cardiovascular health
  • Replenishes fluids lost and restores electrolyte balance
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Make digestion more effective
  • Help with mental clarity
  • Keep skin soft and elastic

Tips for staying hydrated:

  • Drink small amounts of water at shorter intervals throughout the day.
  • Limit the number of cups of coffee and other sugary-rich drinks consumed.
  • Eat more foods with high water content.
  • Know the signs of dehydration.
  • If the taste of water is too bland, try adding pieces of fruit to the water to make it more flavorful.

How workers can best prepare for heat stress-related illness

Illnesses related to heat stress can be prevented. Employers are urged to have in place a heat illness prevention program that is an extension of their safety and health management protocols. This program should outline conditions for a safe environment regarding temperature and humidity.

Employees must also be educated and trained in the risks associated with heat stress, what symptoms to look out for, and the steps to take when someone shows signs of a heat-related illness.

The following strategies are helpful to consider while working in the heat:

  • Use a buddy system to pair workers together to observe each other.
  • Make use of engineering and work practice controls (for example, lightweight and loose-fitting workwear).
  • Adjust work schedules to allow for more break time to rest (preferably in shaded or air-conditioned areas).
  • Work timetables can be adjusted so that intense physical activity can be rescheduled for cooler times in the day.
  • Monitor for signs of dehydration or any other concerning symptoms.

Final thoughts …

Heat stress becomes more of a concern for workers who work outside in the heat, whose job involves a high level of physical activity, and those who work indoors in warehouses, factories, and manufacturing environments.

Workers who work in these environments must be protected through heat safety protocols to prevent them from suffering from heat-related illnesses or causing additional accidents in the workplace.

Heat safety programs can also help workers maintain their ability to focus and concentrate on the job at hand to keep productivity and performance at acceptable levels.

HW Staffing Solutions is here to help you! Get in touch with our service-driven team and contact us today.