Most of us love the hot weather. It’s great to get outdoors and have fun as the temperature rises but it’s not always comfortable. High temperatures can make work feel harder and it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that it’s too hot!
Most healthy people can cope with hot weather and adapt without problems but too much heat and sun can have consequences. Heat stress, sunburn or dehydration can have a serious impact on employees’ health.
Heat stress can be a problem if working in high temperatures. Workplaces can soon get hot especially if hot and humid work processes take place. While it’s possible for employees can adapt over time, it’s important to recognise the symptoms so action can be taken to prevent harm to employees:
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Cramps in muscles
- Heat rashes
- Severe thirst
- Heat exhaustion – fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
- Heat stroke – hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness
If you see someone suffering the above systems try and get them somewhere cool, give them water to drink and send for medical assistance.
What can we do to help prevent heat stress?
- Use fans to circulate air. (Air conditioning if reasonably practicable.)
- Temporarily relax dress rules so employees can wear cooler clothing, as long as it is safe to do so.
- Provide information for employees so they are aware of the symptoms.
- Provide periodic breaks away from the workplace.
- Provide cool drinking water and encourage employees to drink small amounts frequently.
Sunbathing to get a tan is a popular activity at this time of year but getting sunburnt can be a painful experience. Often sunburn occurs before we know, only revealing itself after we have been exposed to the sun for too long. It’s important therefore to act before exposure. Ultraviolet rays from the sun damages skin (indicated by a sun tan) and can have short term and long-term effects:
- Short term effects are obvious and include red, sore, blistering and peeling skin.
- Longer term effects are much slower to appear and include, ageing of the skin, and an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
The best prevention of sunburn is to keep out of the sun, however this is not always easy to do when working outdoors. Advise and encourage employees to:
- Stay out of the sun where possible – Take breaks in the shade
- Keep their top on – wear long sleeved tops and keep legs covered
- Wear a wide brimmed hat that will keep the sun off their head and neck
- Use high factor sun creams on exposed skin
- Provide drinking water and encourage employees to drink frequently to prevent dehydration
- Encourage employees to check their skin regularly and seek medical advice if the find anything that itches or bleeding, changing colour, size or shape
By Ainslie Johnson GradIOSH – Risk Consultant