Typically heat stress is a condition associated with hot countries, now it has become a reality for UK workers. In extreme cases, heat stress can result in death.
In 2015, there were 33 fatal work injuries caused by exposure to environmental heat during the summer months of June to September in the US. Given the current UK temperatures, workplace deaths from heat stress could become a reality for the UK this year.
Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing, like PPE, while working may lead to heat stress. And for workers unaccustomed to higher temperatures, the risk of succumbing to heat stress is increased.
Symptoms of heat stress include confusion, seizures, loss of consciousness and either hot/dry skin or profuse sweating.
In June the UK was put on an official heatwave alert as Government health advisors issued warnings for ‘dangerous’ weather. Temperatures across the UK are continuing to rise putting outdoor workers at increased risk.
To avoid heat stress, we recommended:
- Dressing for hot conditions. Wear clothes that are light-coloured, loose-fitting and lightweight underneath your PPE. Top tip: to protect your neck from the sun, tuck a lightweight hi vis vest into the back of your hard hat.
- Drink water about every 15 minutes. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink
- Do not consume alcohol and avoid caffeine
- Take frequent breaks. Find shaded, cooled or air-conditioned areas.
- If you think you or a colleague may be suffering from heat stress, then you should seek medical attention immediately.
It’s not just down to employees, employers also have a role to play in keeping their workers safe in the sun. To protect workers from heat stress, employers should:
- Allow workers to gradually acclimate to the heat and ease new workers into hot work slowly.
- Provide workers with plenty of cool water that is easy to access.
- Provide cool areas and shade for breaks.
- Track weather and heat conditions and adjust work accordingly, particularly in the event of a heat wave. The Met Office provides 5 day forecasts – https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast
- Schedule heavy work for earlier or later in the day instead of the hottest midday hours
- During hot weather, give workers more frequent breaks and/or assign additional workers to the job.
- Encourage workers to eat snacks or meals regularly to replenish their electrolytes.
- Train workers in recognising heat stress symptoms, treatment and how/when to obtain medical assistance in the event of an emergency.
Health and Safety is the key to a safe, productive and comfortable workplace. NLT Training Services offers a wide range of recognised and accredited Health and Safety training courses designed to keep you safe on site. Discover and book online, our Health and Safety courses here.