This week, the UK is experiencing the “most severe heatwave on record”. Peak temperatures hit 95F (35C) at the start of the week and have yet to drop below 93F (33.9C) in some places. The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in the number of people working from home, but many industries have continued on-site operations. Whether your employees work in a factory, on a construction site or in hot environments such as bakeries and foundries, how do you protect them from heat stress?
Employees who work in hot environments or are exposed to extreme heat are vulnerable to the risk of heat stress. This potentially dangerous condition occurs when the body becomes so hot that it can no longer control its internal temperature leading to loss of function and ill-health.
Heat stress can lead to various health complications such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat rashes and heat cramps. There will be an increased risk of a workplace accident or injury due to discomfort, pain, disorientation, dizziness, sweaty palms and loss of concentration. Heat can also impact the effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE), for example, if safety goggles fog up the wearer’s visibility will be impaired.
If the temperatures rise high enough, anyone working in hot conditions for a long time, without sufficient breaks, is at risk of developing heat stress. However, some workers are exposed to a higher level of work due to the nature of their workplace. Firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, tree planters, mill workers, factory workers, miners, boiler room workers and construction workers are often required to work in hot conditions.
Some employees will be more at risk than others. The risk of heat stress increases for workers in any of the following categories:
Exposure to extreme heat will affect everybody differently, but there are some common effects of heat stress to look out for. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlights the following signs for concern:
If you know your employees will be exposed to extreme heat – whether they are regularly exposed to hot conditions or a heatwave hits – you must conduct a risk assessment which should take into consideration:
When assessing the level of risk, talk to your employees to find out what their work conditions are like and to determine if any of them are experiencing symptoms of heat stress.
Once you have identified the risks, the next step is to implement procedures to reduce these risks. Effective risk mitigation will look different in every workplace but there are several fundamental actions to consider:
Heat stress can lead to serious health issues and workplace injuries. Make sure your employees are protected by keeping an up-to-date risk assessment, monitoring conditions and employees’ health and implementing procedures to mitigate the risk.
Contact Howlett Health and Safety Services today for help with your risk assessment. We can also offer online and face-to-face health and safety training for you and your team. Book your free 15-minute consultation now.