Learn how to avoid heat stress as well as keeping safe from the suns rays while working outdoors.
In many jobs heat stress is an issue all year round (such as boiler rooms, bakeries, laundries, foundries and smelting operations), but this information is also applicable during the hot summer months where there may be an increased risk for some people.
As the body's temperature rises, the nervous system goes to work to stimulate the eccrine glands to release sweat. Sweat is made up of water, sodium and other substances, and as it evaporates it helps cool the body down.
When the body is unable to cool itself by sweating, generally through a lack of body fluids (water and salts (sodium)), you may not have enough body fluids for your body to carry out normal functions easily. If left unchecked, heat-induced illnesses, such as heat stress, heat exhaustion, and the more severe heat stroke, can occur.
Sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps maintain the balance of water in and around your cells. Sodium is important for proper muscle and nerve function, and also helps to maintain stable blood pressure levels.
Heat stress occurs when your body can no longer regulate your temperature and you become too hot. Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways, and some people are more susceptible to it than others.
Typical symptoms of heat stress include; an inability to concentrate, heat rash, severe thirst and fainting.
Heat stress naturally leads to two other heat-induced disorders - heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion happens when someone sweats excessively and does not drink enough fluids and/or take in enough salt. Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity, and strenuous physical activity.
Typical symptoms of heat exhaustion include; fatigue, heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, giddiness, nausea, headache, slightly elevated body temperature and pale and clammy (moist) skin that may be flushed.
Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke – a life-threatening condition.
With heat stroke, the body can no longer maintain its core temperature, sweating stops, and the body temperature rises. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can lead to death.
Typical symptoms include; hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness.
For those of us working outdoors now is the time to be SunSmart. In New Zealand, in particular, we are at high risk of melanoma due to the sun's harmful UV rays, make sure that you follow the staple Slip Slop Slap and Wrap rules between the hours of 10 a.m and 3 p.m. This is crucial during the months of September through to April.
Be careful on those dull days. Although it may be a cloudy day and it won't appear harmful the suns rays can still do the damage so please take care. Should you need a refresher, take a look at the PDF document below.
During the warmer months, it is just as important to make sure you stay well hydrated. Before heading out for work or to the job site, make sure that you have a good supply of fresh drinking water on hand and take regular breaks. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, loss of alertness and tiredness which often contributes to mistakes being made.
Management and workers should be trained to identify the risks of heat stress associated with their work, what symptoms to look out for, safe working practices to avoid or mitigate the effects and emergency procedures for dealing with heat stress.
As with other risks that may affect the health and safety of workers, it may be necessary to monitor workers exposed to the risk of heat stress. Where necessary, you should seek advise from occupational health professionals with a good working knowledge of the risks associated with working in heat stress situations.