Keep your cool this summer

Since August 2009, WorkSafeNB has received seven lost-time claims related to heat stress.

If left untreated, heat stress can rapidly progress into heat cramp and heat exhaustion, and even a potentially fatal heat stroke.

But with a little anticipation these symptoms can largely be avoided, said Roberto Sgrosso, a WorkSafeNB occupational hygienist. He recommends employers meet regularly with their joint health and safety committees to review their legal obligations.

“The employer and JHSC should be able to develop and implement a response plan to reduce the effects of heat stress in their workplace. The plan should include work-rest schedules, water and electrolyte replacement, and other control methods such as alternate work times, cool down methods and buddy systems.”

The plan should also speak to training requirements for employees and should cover how to recognize signs and symptoms of heat stress, he added.

“It should identify control measures and the person who takes the temperature measurements. How often the measurements are taken and how that information is communicated to all employees must also be included.” 

Sgrosso said it’s important to note that those who work indoors in hot or humid environments are as equally at risk as outdoor workers, such as farmers, construction workers, tree planters, lifeguards and painters. These hot and humid environments include bakeries, restaurant kitchens, foundries, laundries and pulp mills.

Employers and workers both have a role to play in ensuring safe conditions for working in the heat and sun. Both need to be aware of the risks and take the proper precautions. Best practices can be summarized in five key areas: awareness, work schedules, hydration and nutrition, supervision, and personal protection.

Three main forms of heat stress
Whether working inside or outside during the hot summer months, it’s important that workers listen to their bodies and learn to recognize the three main forms of heat stress and their symptoms:

Plan work around cooler times of day
Beyond raising awareness, there are administrative strategies for preventing heat illness. Scheduling heavy physical work during cooler parts of the day and ensuring workers get plenty of breaks out of the sun can be relatively easy to implement, Sgrosso said.

“If your workplace has an air conditioned break area for workers, great. But for people who work outside, it can be fairly simple to put up a tarp to provide workers with a rest area in the shade and give them cold drinks or food to help cool them down.”

Stay hydrated
While working in high temperature situations, hydration is critical. Under General Regulation 91-191, employers are required to ensure an adequate supply of fresh drinking water is available and that workers have frequent access to it. Though not required by law, some employers also provide packets of electrolytes to add to the water to ensure a nutritional balance. Sgrosso said common sense should come into play.

“If a worker is sweating profusely, they’re losing fluids and nutrients which must be replaced. Simple snacks and fluids like water, fruit juices and sports drinks are all good choices, but caffeine and alcohol should obviously be avoided.”

Studies show that workers who maintain good hydration and nutrition levels perform better and suffer fewer ill effects from heat and sun exposure.

Supervising to watch for signs of distress
Even with education and hydration, workers may not recognize when they’re suffering from heat stress. One of the early symptoms is altered judgment, so workers who are in distress may not realize it.

“That’s why worksites need a competent person on hand to recognize symptoms in workers exposed to extreme heat, and to advise on the precautions they should take. Employers should also implement a buddy system so workers can keep an eye out for each other.”

These include wearing appropriate clothing and headwear, and for outdoor workers, using sunscreen and wearing sunglasses or safety glasses with UV protection.

Fortunately, the vast majority of companies comply with these best practices. The fact that employers and workers are taking the issue of working in the heat and sun seriously is a good sign — one that points toward a healthier and safer future for New Brunswick’s workforce.

Tips for preventing overexposure to heat and sun

Related Resources
Risk Alert – Heat Stress Can Kill!
Risk Alert – Working Outdoors: Do You Have Everything Under the Sun?

© 2018 WorkSafeNB