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Beating the heat

Aug 4, 2023 | Public | 0 comments


As the weather continues to heat up through the summer, there are many maintenance workers who need to spend their days in the hot sun to do their jobs. When does the heat become a concern? According to Environment Canada, the optimal temperature range for comfort should be 23 to 26°C with 50 per cent relative humidity in the summers, so you need to have a plan for workers when the temperatures heat up.

Last year, after months of gathering input from experts and industry personnel on how to monitor and combat extreme heat in the workplace, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched its National Emphasis Program (NEP) to help protect workers from the threat they face when exposed to extreme heat. The program offers support and resources, including an on-site consulting plan and conducting industry-wide inspections to increase safety for outdoor staff.

As temperatures rise, and workers spend more time outside, it is to keep them safe and productive as they complete their daily tasks. There are many steps you can take to provide protection for your employees so they can stay safe and get the job done.

  • Make sure to schedule regular breaks so staff can stay hydrated and get out of the sun.
  • Encourage hydration breaks every 15 to 20 minutes, even when workers aren’t thirsty, making sure to avoid things like coffee which can increase dehydration and worsen the effects of the sun and the heat.
  • Acclimatization is important. Ease workers into a longer schedule by starting with shorter periods of time spent in the heat and increasing shifts over time to give workers time to adjust to the rising temperatures.
  • According to Health Canada, the sun’s rays are most dangerous from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so schedule the most labour-intensive tasks as early as possible to avoid increased exertion during the most dangerous times of the day.
  • Move work to a shady area wherever possible so workers avoid direct contact with the sun, helping keep their body temperatures down and avoiding getting burned.
  • Reduce the work hours or labour intensity to help get more work done efficiently and consistently, as workers avoid overheating. Consider a rotating shift where workers can spend some time outdoors for brief periods of time while the work is getting completed and then take shifts inside to limit their exposure to the outdoors.
  • If you have equipment that gives off heat, use shields or other protection to try and limit exposure and keep workers cool. Also, provide sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 with a re-application schedule to protect from direct exposure.
  • Supply your staff with personal protection equipment (PPE) like cooling vests, cool compressed air sources, fans, and sunglasses where available.
  • While outdoor workers are most affected by the heat, of course, don’t forget team members who are working in un-airconditioned warehouses, bays, or other areas that tend to heat up. Installing fans in these areas can help cut down on humidity and poor ventilation, making the work environment safer and more appealing for your staff.

Poor air quality

Along with the threat of extreme heat and sun exposure, poor outdoor air quality is also a major concern for outdoor workers. Many areas are currently experiencing significant outdoor air pollution caused by forest fires, which can pose a serious threat to outdoor workers. Often these forest fires occur when the summer is the hottest, so you may be dealing with extreme heat combined with the threat of air pollution.

Wildfires contain a complex mixture of gases, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, fine particle matter, and ozone. Inhaling such small particles can cause damage to the lungs, heart, and kidneys, and can cause heat stress, along with eye and respiratory irritation. Even if there aren’t any fires in your direct vicinity, smoke can travel and have an adverse effect on your outdoor employees.

According to Health Canada, air pollution is linked to 15,300 deaths, 2.7 million asthma days, and 35 million acute respiratory days in Canada each year. This could significantly affect your workforce, so making these conditions a priority will help keep your team safe and your work in progress.

How do you prepare your team and protect them from these conditions?

According to OSHA, there are several steps you can take to keep your staff safe when they are exposed to poor air quality.

  • As smoke is often combined with extreme heat, practice heat protection protocols at the same time with water breaks, avoiding direct exposure wherever possible, and limiting exertion.
  • Monitor frequently for a change in air quality. In Canada, an Air Quality Health Index (AHQI) of level 10+ presents a very high health risk.
  • Prepare for what happens if conditions worsen, including higher protection and evacuation, if needed.
  • Relocate or pause work in progress until the smoke clears and conditions improve.
  • Ensure workers are taking breaks in smoke-free areas.
  • Decide whether additional PPE is required for your employees to remain safe and continue to work outside. This may include respirators, gas masks, and other equipment that clean particles out of the air to make breathing easier.
  • Protect your indoor workers, too. Poor outdoor air quality can compromise your indoor air quality, so be sure that your doors are windows remain closed and sealed whenever possible, upgrade your HVAC system if necessary, add high-efficiency air filters, and install and maintain working carbon monoxide detectors throughout your facility.

Train your team

People who are not accustomed to spending so much time outdoors or performing certain stressful tasks are at a higher risk for heat stress. So, be sure to let any new employees know about your standard operating procedures (SOPs), prioritizing breaks, and wearing appropriate attire to spend long periods of time in the heat. Provide annual refresher training for long term employees to reinforce your company’s protocols to keep them safe and protected, so everyone remains on the same page.

Making staff aware of your heat management procedures also means creating an emergency plan, in case someone exhibits signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, like dizziness, heavy sweating, nausea and more.

Training your teams to be able to recognize symptoms means they will be ready to follow your assigned protocol. Typical mild symptoms of smoke exposure include headaches, cough, and sore and watery eyes. As symptoms develop, exposure could cause dizziness, chest pains, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

Teach your staff to assess the risk and to take the proper action if someone develops alarming symptoms while they are on the job. Your team needs to be on the lookout for these signs so they can help protect each other while on the job, can recognize when it might be time to evacuate an area, and can implement the protocols you have put in place.

Put your workers first

Studies suggest that up to 20,000 deaths a year in North America can be linked to working in the heat, so keep your employees safe as they do their jobs in increasingly hot conditions throughout the summer. Protecting your employees properly is critical for your business. Working outside through the summer can be a challenge, but keeping your employees safe, comfortable, and informed will help ensure that the work is completed safely and efficiently.

RELATED: OSHA boosts heat protection for workers

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