Preventing Heat Stress
The Health and Safety Executive has issued information on preventing heat stress.
Summer has been so far rather exceptional – temperatures have soared daily to 28°C and remained there with further increases in some places. Scientists predict that the UK will see wetter, milder winters and hotter, drier summers due to global warming. The summer heatwaves are here to stay as seasons become more extreme largely due to climate change. So what does this hot weather mean for personnel in different work environments?
Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat stress. Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes.
Workers at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments such as farmers, construction workers, factory workers, and others. Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.
Prevention of heat stress in workers is important. Employers should provide information and training to workers so they understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health, and how it can be prevented.
In the USA the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Report about working in extreme heat. The report is based on an evaluation of heat stress at a national park, and it includes recommendations that can be applied where extreme heat may be a factor.
The USA NIOSH HHE Report points out that employers should establish a heat illness prevention programme which should include assigning outdoor tasks at night or during cooler weather if possible, providing rest periods in shaded or cool areas, ensuring employees have access to water or other hydrating beverages, implementing a mandatory buddy system, and training workers to recognise symptoms of heat-related illness. Also recommended are acclimatising workers and allowing frequent breaks for new workers or those who have been away for a week or more, in order to build a tolerance for working in the heat.
The UK HSE has also issued information on preventing heat stress.
General recommendations for outdoor workers to help prevent heat-related illness and fatalities include:
- Understand the signs of heat illness.
- Avoid exposure to extreme heat, sun exposure, and high humidity when possible.
- Awareness of colleagues’ health is important as a person may not realise the seriousness of heat illness.
- Phone the emergency services immediately if they become confused or act strangely during work in a hot environment. Move them to a cool area immediately.
- Drink water frequently to prevent dehydration.
- Use water and low sugar beverages to rehydrate. Avoid alcohol and caffeine in hot environments as these will cause you to become dehydrated quicker.
- Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity.
- Rest in a shaded area or an air conditioned building to cool down.
- Wear a hat and light weight, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton.
- Avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing.
- Protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress so review whether lighter PPE is required.
- Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.
- Issuing permits to work that specify how long your workers should work in situations where there is a particular risk.
Record a risk assessment which includes detail on work rate, working climate, humidity, air movement. Assess worker clothing and respiratory protective equipment, worker build and medical factors.
Doyle Clayton can provide support with ensuring the development and review of suitable and sufficient risk assessments taking into account heat stress. Please contact Sally Beck for further information.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.