As we’re well and truly in the summer months with temperatures this week exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, working in hot, humid conditions are a common fact of life for many people.
Industries such as construction, utilities and agriculture regularly expose workers to hot weather. Couple this with the fact that many of these workers, some of whom work alone, must wear heavy protective apparel on the job, heat-related illnesses are a real threat to their safety and wellbeing.
When working alone outdoors in hot conditions, access to clean drinking water is a serious issue – one that affects health and productivity. Without easy access to fluids, workers can become dehydrated, which is a prime cause of heat illness.
Excessive exposure to a hot work environment can bring about a variety of heat-induced problems. In fact, after just two hours of moderate work, workers may begin to feel the initial stages of heat stress. At its most severe point, heat stress can result in unconsciousness.
Lone workers by their very definition are more vulnerable in such circumstances. Without a colleague to help or call for assistance, conditions can worsen and lead to serious illness or even death. So, it’s vitally important that your staff know how to keep themselves cool in hot weather and what symptoms to look out for in the event of heat-induced illness.
Here are Skyguard’s tips to keeping workers safe in hot weather:
- It is recommended that you drink water every 15 to 20 minutes — not just during rest breaks — to stay sufficiently hydrated and maintain a safe core body temperature. This puts less strain on the cardiovascular system and can lead to fewer heat-related illnesses and injuries.
- Introduce more frequent rest breaks and provide shading to rest areas.
- Drink before, during and after physical labour to replace body fluid lost in sweating. In hot, hard-working conditions, workers can lose up to 1.5 litres of water each hour in the form of sweat. Keep in mind that by the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Once you are dehydrated, it’s difficult to make up for that lost hydration. Drink even if you do not feel thirsty.
- Anticipate conditions that will increase the need for water, including high temperature, humidity, protective clothing and difficulty of work.
- Ask your employer to provide free access to cool drinking water. Keep cool, clean water within easy reach at all times. It’s recommended that you place water close enough so you can reach it without abandoning your work area.
- Drink cool water, which is absorbed more quickly by the body than warm or very cold fluids. Anywhere between 50 to 59 degrees is an ideal temperature for water.
- If safe to do so, remove personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss.
- Avoid coffee, tea or soda, which act as diuretics, further depleting the body of fluid. Never drink alcohol while working.
- Ask yourself if it is possible to reschedule work to cooler times of the day?
- Encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss.
- Encourage workers to use sunscreen of at least SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15 on any part of the body they can’t cover up. Workers should check their skin regularly for unusual spots or moles that change size, shape or colour and to seek medical advice promptly if they find anything that causes them concern.
- Carry a personal alarm, such as Skyguard’s MySOS to raise the alarm should you or a colleague fall ill through heat exhaustion. A ‘mandown’ equipped device will raise the alarm automatically should you collapse under heat stress.
You should also educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat exhaustion or stress. Symptoms include:
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- Headaches, dizziness, light-headedness or fainting.
- Weakness and moist skin.
- Mood changes such as irritability or confusion.
- Upset stomach or vomiting.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
- Dry, hot skin with no sweating.
- Mental confusion or losing consciousness.
- Seizures or convulsions.
So what should you do if you discover someone who is suffering from severe heat-stroke?
If the person shows serious signs of disorientation, falls unconscious, or begins twitching, he or she needs immediate medical attention.
- Call 999 or go to an emergency facility right away.
- While waiting for help, move the victim to a shady area and into an air-conditioned location if possible.
- Quickly remove the outer layers of clothing.
- Cool the victim rapidly using the best means available: Spray the person with a garden hose or spray bottle, sponge with cool water, place in a tub of cool water, or wrap in cool, wet sheets and fan vigorously.
- Put cold compresses or ice packs under the victim’s armpits and on the neck and groin.
- Do NOT give the victim an alcoholic drink, even if it’s cool. This can raise body temperature. Avoid tea and other stimulants as well.
- Do NOT give the victim antihistamines or pain relievers such as aspirin.
By taking the above precautions, the threat of heat-related illnesses are greatly reduced. Enjoy the good weather, stay safe and drink plenty of water!