For all workers, especially during the hot season, heat stress is a real threat. Performing work in the heat combined with physical exertion drains fluids quickly from the body, leading to dehydration. Unless rehydrated, the body will no longer be able to cool itself enough to remain below the healthy threshold of 100.4°F/38°C (according to an OSHA Heat Stress Guide). When this happens, heat stress sets in and if left untreated, it may escalate to heatstroke, a fatal and life-threatening condition.
The instance described above applies mostly to people working in hot work environments without adequate ventilation and fluid intake. Now, consider those that work in high temperatures WHILE wearing protective gear e.g. workers at hazardous waste sites, emergency response operatives, chemical plants, and mining site workers, etc. These people wear protective suits to keep hazardous—and/or toxic—materials out and insulate them from fire and other elements.
By design, many disposable protective garments are not breathable and are not designed to prevent heat buildup. While working in hot environments in these garments, the likelihood of heat stress and other heat-related illnesses is much higher. As a result, it is important that companies and workers that consistently use protective garments familiarize themselves with the steps that can be taken to avoid heat stress, heat exhaustion, and/or heat stroke.
Improve Work Conditions
The first step to beating excessive heat exposure is to improve workplace conditions. This includes having proper ventilation, blocking out direct sunlight and other heat sources, and providing as many industrial fans and/or air conditioners as needed.
In instances where any of these are impractical, provide a cool room where workers can recover and reduce their core temperature. Workers should also be provided with ample fluids and OSHA—Occupational Safety and Health Administration—recommends avoiding dehydration. Workers are to drink water every 15 minutes. These heat stress prevention guidelines can be a lifesaver, so it's important workers and supervisors are familiar with them.
When possible, high-intensity work activities should be scheduled for cooler periods like early in the morning or late in the evening. In cases where this isn’t possible—firefighters, for example, cannot specify their work schedule—an alternative would be to reduce the physical demands of work done in extreme heat. The work should be distributed evenly, and no worker should do the bulk of the running, lifting, or carrying.
Workers should also be provided with frequent breaks and rest periods to help them cool down and provide them with more opportunities to hydrate. Water should always be available on-site as well as shaded or air-conditioned areas. It's recommended to have a buddy system to help workers monitor each other for signs of heat-related illnesses.
How to Avoid Heat Stress at Work—Recognize the Symptoms
According to an Environmental Health and Safety guide published by Iowa State University, workers must be trained to recognize the symptoms of heat stress so that they can get medical help before it escalates. Symptoms may vary from thirst, headache, dizziness, or nausea to disorientation and light-headedness, vomiting, wet skin, heat rash, and heat cramps.
In truth, some of these symptoms are consistent with fatigue and the tiredness that comes with exertion, but to be cautious, while working in protective garments in hot weather or conditions, the onset of any of these symptoms must be taken as a serious medical concern. It's important to note that workers with high blood pressure are at a higher risk.
According to OSHA’s Heat Stress Guidelines, workers that wear protective garments at temperatures higher than 70°F while working at loads greater than 500 kcal/hour should be monitored constantly. Their heart rate, recovery heart rate, percentage of body water loss, and oral temperature must be checked intermittently to ensure that they are not suffering from heat stress. OSHA also has a handy heat stress calculator to help workers determine if their temperature is within the recommended limit(s).
Provide a Response Plan
After workers have been familiarized with the symptoms of heat stress and other heat-induced trauma, the next step is to develop a heat stroke prevention plan. Some companies/plants opt for standby medical personnel that are always on-hand to take care of ailing workers. While that is the ideal option, it is also advisable that workers learn how to take care of themselves and their colleagues.
If someone is suffering from heat stress, the first thing to do is take their protective garment(s) and other outer clothing off and immediately move him or her to a cooler and well-ventilated area. Emergency services should be contacted and their instructions on what to do next should be followed. This may include positioning the patient sideways, fanning them, and applying ice towels to their face and torso.
Get Breathable Protective Clothing-- Breathable Workwear can Help Save Lives
Best-in-class disposable protective garments are designed to provide workers with as much ventilation as possible without compromising on safety. While using breathable safety clothing, workers can be protected from toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, fire, and sparks.
When looking for breathable disposable protective clothing, look no further than International Enviroguard. They provide PPE for heat stress prevention in a variety of breathable bodysuits and accessories.
How Body Filter 95+® Keeps Workers Cool
Many types of PPE actually increase the likelihood of heat exhaustion or stroke by trapping heat next to the body and raising a person's internal temperature. To fight this problem, employers should offer lightweight and breathable PPE that enables heat and moisture vapor to escape, such as Body Filter 95+®. This product line is made with a proprietary, non-woven fabric that allows heat to escape and protects against noxious particulates down to 0.3 microns in the 95% to 99% range.
Watch the video below to view a demonstration of the superior breathability of Body Filter 95+® versus a leading competitor. These breathable coveralls and accessories help eliminate excess heat production to keep workers cooler.
- OSHA Heat Stress Guide: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/heat_stress.pdf
- Overview of all OSHA Heat-Related Topics: https://www.osha.gov/heat-exposure/planning