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CCOS Safety Tips: Staying cool

How to manage exposure to heat.


Furnaces and molten material are key sources of extreme heat. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Furnaces and molten material are key sources of extreme heat. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Whether you work in a hot plant or outdoors, heat exposure can be dangerous. Heat stress results from exertion, the environment, clothing and wearable equipment.

Most people feel comfortable when the air temperature is between 20 and 27 degrees C with relative humidity ranging from 35% to 60%. However, very hot environments increase internal body temperature several degrees above a normal 37 degrees C, overwhelming natural cooling systems and leading to a variety of serious and possibly fatal conditions. Risk to health increases for workers who are over 65, overweight, have heart disease, high blood pressure, or respiratory disease, take medications affected by extreme heat or have skin diseases/rashes.

Illnesses include heat stroke, cramps, loss of consciousness and exhaustion. There’s also the risk of accidents resulting from slippery sweaty palms, contact with hot surfaces or fogging of eyeglasses while moving from hot to cold.

Reduce risk by following these tips:

  • Provide training on the serious health risks of heat illness, how to avoid it, how to recognize the symptoms and what to do if it happens.
  • Keep workers cool and hydrated. Allow some flexibility during hot conditions. If possible, schedule heavy tasks and work that requires personal protective equipment for cooler times such as early mornings or evenings. Keep the work area cool, or provide air-conditioned rest areas. Encourage workers to drink water even if they don’t feel thirsty, and to take frequent rest breaks.
  • Workers need to acclimate. It can take up to two weeks to build up a tolerance to hot conditions.
  • No shady or cool place? Workers should reduce their physical efforts.
  • Alcohol and drugs worsen the effects of heat illness. Those on medication should be informed about how it will react to the sun and heat.

This article was provided by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), a not-for-profit federal corporation that promotes the physical, psychosocial and mental health of Canadian workers by providing information, training, education and management systems. Visit www.ccohs.ca.

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