What are factors that contribute to heat stress?
As temperatures rise during the summer months, it's important to be aware of the risks of heat stress and dehydration. However, while many people associate these conditions with working outdoors in hot weather, there are actually a number of factors that can contribute to heat stress in any work environment.
What is heat stress?
Heat stress is a broad category that encompasses several different disorders. They range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to life threatening. They include:
- Heat rash
- Heat cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
Workers in different professions can commonly be exposed to the dangers of heat stress, and when working locations or conditions could raise the deep core temperature to more than 100.4 degrees fahrenheit, the risk of heat stress is increased exponentially. These jobs range from metal smelters and outdoor construction to working in kitchens and non-air conditioned warehouses. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of blue-collar workers could be at risk of heat stress at some point in their careers. Those who work in these conditions need to have access to proper hydration. Products like electrolyte replenishment powders are great to add flavor and extra hydrating power to disposable or reusable bottles of water. Ready-to-drink sports drinks may be even more convenient as they can be stored in a cooler and readily available. To rehydrate, and also help cool down body temperatures, Electrolyte replenishment Freezer Pops are a great idea as they are refreshing and provide all the essential electrolytes to keep teams performing at their best.
What are the Heat stress factors that are most commonly overlooked?
There are three categories of factors that determine the degree to which an individual may be at risk for heat stress:
- Personal risk factors
- Environmental factors
- Job-related factors
Out of the factors mentioned above, environmental factors are often the most commonly considered. It is no surprise as it’s harder to forget about the possibility of heat stroke when you’re spending a significant part of the day working in the heat or outdoors under the sun. However, personal risk factors and job-related factors are often overlooked - and the results can be deadly.
In addition to environmental factors such as high temperatures and humidity, there are also personal and job-related factors to consider. These factors can include:
Some medications can affect the body’s ability to tolerate (and effectively deal with) heat. Workers taking medication for the following conditions should be particularly vigilant:
- Colds, allergies, and congestion
- Blood pressure
- Dizziness or vertigo
2. Alcohol Use
Workers who have consumed alcohol in the past 24 hours are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, as alcohol negatively impacts the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Alcohol use can also contribute to dehydration, which can further spur on the development of heat stress.
New employees and those who are returning from time away from the heat should do so slowly to allow the body to get used to the temperature. Workers already acclimatized may be more prone to heat stress when there is a sudden change in temperature at the worksite, such as heat waves or when there is mining in the area.
4. Proximity to hot equipment
Workers performing tasks with, or in close proximity to engines and other heat-generating equipment are at increased risk for heat illnesses. The equipment produces heat that raises the temperature in the working environment, and it doesn’t take long before workers’ own body temperatures start rising.
5. Clothing and PPE
Some protective equipment is heavy and lacks the ability to breathe, trapping all the body heat and perspiration, making it easy for the body to overheat. Workers should pay special attention to the coated and non-woven materials often used in protective garments, which prevent the evaporation of sweat. In general, the heavier the clothing, the longer it takes for evaporation to effectively cool the skin. Using cooling gear like cooling vests or cooling bandanas may help the body remain cool but may not necessarily be allowed. Workers may need to check with safety managers to see if these articles can be used in the jobsite.
6. Fluid Loss
Fluid loss is another factor to consider, but this factor varies heavily from person to person. Workers who lose more than 1.5 percent of their body weight in a single day from sweating are at greater risk of heat stress. This can be remedied by ensuring adequate fluid intake to compensate for the fluid loss. Drinking electrolyte-replenishment sports drinks is ideal to make sure workers replace fluids but also the nutrients and electrolytes they have lost.
7. Work Schedule
Doing strenuous work during the hottest parts of the day puts workers at severe risk for developing heat-related illness. When possible, adjust work schedules so that strenuous work is done early in the morning and later in the afternoon, instead of mid-day when the sun is at its intensity peak. This will help prevent exposure to extreme heat.
Heat Stress signs and symptoms to watch out for in team members:
- Cool, clammy skin
- Pale face
- Excessive sweating
If these symptoms are present, immediately move the individual to a cooler spot and provide water and rest. Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, and if it’s left untreated it can lead to serious and possibly fatal complications. Symptoms include:
- Flushed face
- Hot, dry skin
- Lack of sweating
- Body temperature of 101 degrees or higher
- Rapid pulse
Workers experiencing heat stroke symptoms should receive immediate treatment from a medical professional. Move the individual to a shady place, wrap in a cool sheet, and call 911.
By being aware of all the factors that contribute to heat stress, workers can take steps to prevent heat-related illness and stay safe on the job. Whether working indoors or outdoors, understanding the risks of heat stress and taking appropriate precautions can make all the difference. Stay hydrated and cool, and take care of your team and yourself during hot weather. Using cooling apparel, cooling fans and making sure to stay hydrated with sports drinks, hydration powders and electrolyte-replenishing freezer pops are the ideal steps to stay in control of the heat and avoid its very negative impact.
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