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Study finds young and new workers vulnerable to heat stress

heat stressJR Gauvin remembers feeling faint under the glaring sun as he worked his summer job at a golf course  several years ago.

“I started to feel tired, then really tired and then I felt like fainting,” said Gauvin, who is working this summer with WorkSafeNB out of its Dieppe office.

“I should have drank more.”

It turns out Gauvin was feeling symptoms of heat stress.

A new study has found young men working in manual occupations – like Gauvin was at the time – are more vulnerable to extreme heat. The more inexperienced they are on the job, the more likely they are to need time off work to recover from heat stroke, sun stroke, fainting and other forms of heat illness.

The findings are no surprise to Jessica Brodie, youth programs co-ordinator for WorkSafeNB.

“Research has shown that any new worker is at a higher risk of injury in the first couple of weeks on the job,” she said. “When you factor in manual labour under a hot sun, you can see how new and young workers would be more vulnerable to heat stress.”

The study, done by the Institute for Work and Health (IWH), found that manual workers accounted for 52% of all lost-time claims, but 59% of all heat-related lost-time claims during the study period. Likewise, workers who were less than a month on the job accounted for 4.2% of all lost-time claims. But their heat-related illnesses accounted for nearly twice that proportion – 8.2% of all heat-related lost-time claims.

 The study’s findings support recent New Brunswick legislation that requires employers to give a safety orientation and job-specific training to new workers.

“All new workers are four times more at risk of injury in the first couple of months on the job,” Brodie said. “That comes down to not knowing the hazards and ways to protect themselves.”

The study provides more evidence that new and young workers working under the hot summer sun, as well as their employers, need to take measures, Brodie said.

New and young workers should become accustomed to their job’s manual labour, time the heaviest and hardest tasks before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., watch for the early signs of heat stress and drink water – rather than coffee or energy drinks – throughout the day.

“Don’t wait until you become thirsty,” she said. “You should have a drink every 15 to 20 minutes.”

Employers should talk to new and young employers about heat stress and its symptoms during their job orientation and during safety talks throughout the summer. They should ensure their employees have water and provide a shaded area at the job site.

At the same time, experienced workers should be mindful of the new and young workers on the job.

“Every seasoned worker has a responsibility to watch and monitor them,” she said. “If they notice someone feeling faint or slurring their words, they should take action.”

To help keep workers safe, WorkSafeNB recommends the following resources:

Work Safely Under the Summer Sun

OHS Answers Fact Sheet – Hot Environments

OHS Answers Fact Sheet – Humidex and Work

WorkSafeNB OHS Guide to Legislation – Heat and Cold Stress

Heat Stress Can Kill

Working Outdoors

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