Working in the intense heat of the summer sun can put workers at risk of heat stress, but heat stress can also hit you in places you wouldn't expect.
"Any job that causes your body temperature to rise has the potential to cause heat stress," says WSPS Occupational Hygiene Consultant Michael Puccini. "Even jobs carried out in air-conditioned environments."
There are many ways to keep workers safe from heat stress. It's important to train workers to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stress in themselves and other workers, and to take action.
Signs and symptoms
You may experience the following:
- Light headedness
- Blurry vision
- Trouble focusing
- Excessive sweating
Left unchecked, heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart attack, and other physical health effects. Plus, it can be damaging to business, by way of lost productivity, disability costs, and fines and penalties.
How to protect workers from heat stress
Sun-related heat stress is a well-recognized hazard that can be prevented through a combination of engineering and administrative controls. Read our "The Dog Days of Summer Are Here. Prepare for the heat now" article to find more prevention advice.
As for indoor heat stress, it can occur anytime a body temperature rises and the body cannot cool itself.
This can occur anywhere, even in cooler temperatures. If your protective clothing doesn't allow your body to expel heat, you could be at risk. Here are five cost-effective prevention tips:
- Wear cotton or other loose woven fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin. As soon as you allow that evaporation, you're cooling the body.
- Make watering stations available for employees. Small quantities of cool (not cold) liquid prevent dehydration, and maintain the body's ability to sweat and cool itself.
- Train workers, supervisors and managers to recognize signs of heat stress. You may not be aware you're suffering heat stress, but others can say, "Look at the sweat pouring off of you. Something's wrong. You need to go take a break, or talk to the supervisor."
- Promote a healthy lifestyle. Workers who are not physically fit are more susceptible to heat stress because their body has to overly exert itself to perform a task.
- Review other risk factors for heat stress with workers. As we age, we're less able to get rid of heat efficiently. And certain medications, such as blood pressure pills and other diuretics cause increased urination, which can reduce the body’s ability to expel heat through sweating.
How WSPS can help
Check out our heat stress resource page for these and other tools:
- heat stress posters,
- heat stress awareness sessions conducted on site by WSPS safety experts,
- articles on heat stress.