11 strategies to prevent heat stress in the workforce
The following provides actionable steps and guidelines that safety professionals, managers and business owners can follow to minimise and manage productivity-sapping and potentially dangerous heat stress in their workers.
1. Education: Training workers to recognise the signs and symptoms that a heat affected co-worker will exhibit and teaching procedures to manage that heat stress is essential. Topics should include lifestyle factors that contribute to heat tolerance such as the prevention of obesity, maintaining physical fitness and heat acclimatisation.
2. Monitoring of Workers: Analysis of the skin and core body temperatures in response to working in the heat, combined with pre and post-shift hydration monitoring through the analysis of urine samples, along with the evaluation of body mass change can assist workers in fine tuning their hydration to match requirements.
3. Work Rate: The harder you work the more body heat you produce. Work rates need to match individual workers by allowing them to self-pace and adjust their workload based upon how they are feeling.
4. Heat acclimatisation and fitness: With exposure and time the human body has the capacity to improve tolerance to hot and humid conditions. Regular physical activity that results in high sweat rates can improve heat tolerance and make the transition to a hot workplace less stressful.
5. Ice Ingestion: Crushed ice ingestion acts as a heat sink in the body and is a proven method to effectively lower core body temperatures, providing improved performance in the heat and likely leading to increased worker productivity.
6. Cooling: PPE-free areas should be available on site to enable workers to better cool off on a break or as required, while the provision of cooling vests for workers on the job has been proven to be a highly effective method of minimising heat stress. Adequate airflow on site is also critical, with the use of cooling fans significantly helping evaporative cooling, the primary function of sweating.
7. Hydration: As a minimum, workers should be supplied with a bottle of water or electrolyte drink before their shift, consume this and fill up their bottle for further consumption. Water or electrolyte drink bottle refilling stations should be made available for easy access during shifts.
8. Nutrition: A loss of appetite is common in the heat, however six to eight hours without food is considered the limit when high sweat rates are encountered.
9. Sleep: Sleep is a major component of post-shift recovery and quality uninterrupted sleep in a cool environment is important.
10. Environmental Monitoring: There are a range of indices to assess heat stress risk based upon climatic conditions however it is unrealistic to expect a single measure to mitigate workplace heat stress. Any environmental monitoring should be part of an over-arching heat stress management policy.
11. Heat Stress Management Policy: A policy detailing the responsibilities of personnel, team leaders, planners, schedulers and senior management to prevent and manage heat stress in staff is an essential document for organisations that operate in hot conditions.
For more information on managing heat stress in the workplace, including more detailed information on these 11 preventative measures, download the FREE Heat STress White Paper.