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Keeping Your Employees Safe from Heat Stress at Work: A Quick Guide

Understanding how to address heat stress in the workplace is crucial for employers. Heat stress, caused by factors such as air temperature, work rate, humidity, and clothing, can trigger symptoms including concentration difficulties, muscle cramps, heat rash, severe thirst, fainting, heat exhaustion and even, potentially, fatal heat stroke. Workplaces at particularly high risk include manufacturing plants, mines, power stations, boiler rooms, bakeries, and laundries. To protect employees, employers should consider heat stress during risk assessments and take steps such as controlling the temperature, reducing work rates, regulating exposure to heat, providing hydration, offering training, allowing acclimatisation time and monitoring employee health.

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Introduction

This quick guide is based on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) document titled "Heat stress in the workplace: A brief guide" (INDG451 rev1). The guide provides an easy-to-understand summary of the document, highlighting key points and actions necessary for employers to protect their employees from heat stress in the workplace.

Understanding Heat Stress

Heat stress occurs when the body's means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. Factors such as air temperature, work rate, humidity, and work clothing can all contribute to heat stress. It's important to note that the risk of heat stress might not be obvious to someone passing through the workplace.

Effects of Heat Stress

Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways, and some people are more susceptible to it than others. Typical symptoms include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat rash
  • Severe thirst – a late symptom of heat stress
  • Fainting
  • Heat exhaustion – fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
  • Heat stroke – hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage.

Workplaces Prone to Heat Stress

Workplaces where people might suffer from heat stress due to the hot environment created by the process or restricted spaces include glass and rubber manufacturing plants, mines, compressed air tunnels, conventional and nuclear power stations, foundries and smelting operations, brick-firing and ceramics plants, boiler rooms, bakeries and kitchens, and laundries.

Addressing Heat Stress

Employers need to consider heat stress when carrying out risk assessments. Elements to consider in the risk assessment include work rate, working climate, worker's clothing and respiratory protective equipment, and worker's age, build and medical factors.

Reducing the Risks

Employers can reduce the risks of heat stress by:

  • Controlling the temperature using engineering solutions
  • Providing mechanical aids to reduce the work rate
  • Regulating the length of exposure to hot environments
  • Preventing dehydration by providing cool water in the workplace
  • Providing personal protective equipment
  • Providing training for workers
  • Allowing workers to acclimatise to their environment
  • Identifying employees who are more susceptible to heat stress
  • Monitoring the health of workers at risk

Conclusion

Heat stress in the workplace is a serious issue that can have severe health consequences. Employers must take proactive steps to assess the risk and implement measures to reduce this risk. This guide, based on the HSE document "Heat stress in the workplace: A brief guide", provides a summary of the key points and actions required to manage heat stress in the workplace.

Author

Richard O'Connor's Headshot

Richard O'Connor is a Director at First Mats. He has deep knowledge in areas like Manufacturing, Warehousing, Marine, and Health & Safety. Richard's insights have been featured in well-known publications such as Bloomberg Business, The Sun, and Reader's Digest. His blend of industry expertise and passion for sharing makes him a sought-after voice in his fields.

Contact Richard

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