You know it’s coming—the blistering heat of the summer months. It’s a time many have been waiting months for.
But while those blistering hot summer days offer opportunities to hit the beach or whatever seasonal enjoyment you may prefer, they can also present a safety issue in the workplace, one that should be addressed now.
Warren Clements, an occupational hygienist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, says everyone in a business has a role to play in keeping employees safe. “Employers, supervisors and workers all can make a difference in their workplace.”
The WSPS offers a 10-step plan of action to help.
1. Put a policy and procedures in place, based on risk assessment. If heat stress is considered a hazard, consider conducting heat stress measurements and developing a control plan, including engineering controls such as insulating hot surfaces.
2. Train all employees during orientation on the policy and procedures. Include heat stress symptoms, how to prevent it, and what to do if someone starts showing symptoms. Heat stress training is particularly critical for young and new workers, as well as all manual workers. Research conducted by the Institute for Work & Health shows that heat strokes, sunstrokes and other heat illnesses disproportionately affect those on the job less than two months.
Steps for supervisors
3. Acclimatize workers to hot conditions, and watch out for de-acclimatization. Workers can lose their tolerance in only four days.
4. Schedule work in the hottest locations for cooler times of day. Build cool-down breaks into work schedules. Adjust the frequency and duration of breaks as needed. “Taking a break means going to a cooler work area or providing workers with periodic rest breaks and rest facilities in cooler conditions,” says Warren.
5. Get to know your workplace and your workers. “Are there certain jobs at elevated risk? Is anybody working outside today? Keep your eyes and ears open: ‘Is so-and-so looking a little different from how he normally looks? A little more flushed? Sitting down more?’”
6. Ensure ready access to cool water in convenient, visible locations. Workers need to replenish their fluids if they are becoming dehydrated.
7. Supply protective equipment and clothing as needed, such as water-dampened cotton whole-body suits, cooling vests with pockets that hold cold packs, and water-cooled suits.
8. Monitor weather forecasts. “If it’s Tuesday and you know superhot weather is coming on Thursday, ask yourself, ‘Who will be working then? What will they be doing? Who should I watch out for?’”
9. Be extra vigilant in extreme conditions. “Check on workers frequently. If you can’t do this, then assign a temporary pair of eyes to do it for you.”
Steps for workers
10. Watch out for each other and speak up. “People suffering from heat stress don’t always recognize their own symptoms. If anyone’s behaviour is ‘more than usual’ — more sweating, more flushed, hyperventilating — it could be a sign of heat stress.” Other signs could include rashes, muscle cramping, dizziness, fainting, and headaches.