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Managing heat stress: new standard on the way, plus tips for today

Jun 08, 2015

Heat stressSeasonal heat and humidity is coming, if not here already. We've provided essential tips on how to manage this hazard and links to resources below, but more help is on the horizon. By the end of 2016, employers will have access to a new guideline for protecting workers from a number of extreme conditions, such as high heat and humidity, cold temperatures and severe weather.

When complete, CSA Z1010 - Management of Work in Extreme Conditions will provide a made-in-Canada set of guidelines for workplaces dealing with these conditions inside, outside and in confined spaces, says Dave Shanahan, CSA's OHS standards project manager. Grouping extreme conditions together will make it easier for workplaces to develop a comprehensive solution in line with their existing health and safety management program.

Like the existing standards in the CSA Z1000 series, CSA Z1010 will be systems-based. These standards offer a continuous improvement framework featuring processes for

  • identifying and eliminating hazards
  • assessing and controlling risks associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated
  • implementing hazard reduction structures and practices
  • fostering a health and safety culture

The new standard will also be based on best practices. "We've got everybody on board," says Shanahan. "Industry people, labour, regulators, academics who study this area, police and fire fighters, are all helping us out with the standard."

Benchmark for the future

Sergio Bollito, a member of Z1010's technical committee, is a worker representative who also leads a sub-committee on program planning and implementation. Firms with programs in place will find new ideas "to help make their program a little better," he says. For other firms, "this is going to set guidelines for planning, safe work procedures, developing your program, getting workers and supervisors involved, making sure it's effective, and more."

An electrical technician and joint health and safety committee member at Ruetgers Canada, Bollito works in an industry where extreme hazards are present, and is familiar with control methods for extreme hazards. "A lot of our work here - it's a refinery - is outside so you're working sometimes in extreme heat in the summer or extreme cold in the winter."

The facility has a number of confined spaces, a key area also addressed by the standard. Shanahan explains that, "in a confined space, the atmosphere can get suddenly very hot or cold or very humid, and the worker can find it very difficult to breathe."

Addressing heat hazards now

"This time of year we do see situations where people can easily become dehydrated and suffer heat stress," says Shanahan. Other risks for workers include burns and melanoma. Young workers are particularly at risk, says Shanahan. "Some younger people are not used to it; they tend to overdo it without realizing what danger they are in by working too hard in heat they’re not used to."

Employers can minimize risks by developing a policy and procedures that includes such elements as

  • training staff on the hazards, symptoms and prevention of heat stress
  • designing work to
    • acclimatize workers, especially new and young workers
    • schedule jobs with high heat exposure to cooler times of day
    • reduce physical demands during high heat times
    • include adequate rest and hydration breaks
    • provide cool areas during break periods
    • provide relief workers or extra workers for physically demanding jobs
  • setting up systems for reporting incidents and initiating first aid
  • monitoring weather reports daily and/or reducing the physical demands
  • providing plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations close to the work area
  • providing protective equipment and clothing

How WSPS can help

We offer a range of expertise and resources to help you protect workers from heat stress and other extreme conditions.