The summer months bring countless opportunities to get out into the sun and enjoy the outdoors. While many people find themselves enjoying their time in the sun, it’s important to remember that tens of thousands of workers in Alberta spend 10-12 hours a day working in the heat and that extended time in the heat comes with potentially serious hazards.
Not everyone reacts to heat the same way. Many factors contribute to individual sensitivities, including age, weight, general heath, medical conditions, and medications. Some personal protective equipment can also contribute to heat illnesses, e.g., face masks, gloves, etc.**
Acclimatization also varies between individuals. On average it takes people 4 – 7 working days to become acclimatized to the heat but can take up to 3 weeks. Every time there is a rise in heat intervals the acclimatization period starts over. Often when the heat burden increases, workers begin to feel irritable, lose concentration and lose the ability to do skilled tasks or heavy work.*
On days when the temperature soars, it’s important to train your workers on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the 4 major heat related illnesses:
- Heat Rashes are tiny red spots that look like red clusters of pimples or small blisters. This inflammation occurs when the ducts of sweat glands become plugged during excessive sweating. They are commonly found on the neck or upper chest, groin area, under the breasts, and in elbow creases. Once the person is in a cooler area the rashes usually subside on their own.
- Heat Cramps are sharp pains or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs. Cramps are caused by low salt levels in the muscles as a result of heavy sweating.
- Heat Exhaustion is an extreme loss of water and salt in the body. Signs and symptoms include excessive sweating, weakness, vision problems, nausea, fatigue, dizziness or confusion, and pale, clammy skin. Heat exhaustion is serious and the worker should be brought immediately to receive medical attention.
- Heat Stroke is an emergency and requires immediate first aid and medical attention. At this point the body is no longer sweating and has a dangerously elevated core temperature (often greater than 40 degrees Celsius). Symptoms include irrational behaviour, rapid pulse, confusion, slurred speech, hot, dry skin and loss of consciousness. Call 911 immediately and move the person to a cooler, shaded location.
A heat stroke victim is usually unable to recognize the heat stroke signs and symptoms. Their survival depends on a co-worker’s ability to recognize the symptoms and seek immediate medical help.*** Make sure to monitor every person on your job site to ensure they are adapting to working in the heat.
5 Tips for Working Safely in Extreme Heat:
- Stay hydrated. Drink water consistently throughout the day, up to a 250mls every 20 minutes, even when you don’t feel thirsty.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Choose lighters materials that are loose fitting. Change your clothes if they become damp from excessive sweating.
- Have a work buddy. Check-in with them throughout the day and watch for signs of heat illness.
- Utilize a cooling station. Take mini-breaks and spend rest periods in a shaded, air-conditioned area.
- Keep water nearby. Water isn’t just for drinking. Use water to dampen a cloth to wipe your face or put around your neck.
Photo Credit: Summer Heat