Six tips for keeping cool on the job

It’s finally summer in Saskatchewan! And while the heat and humidity may be great if you’re by a pool or lake, it can be challenging — and potentially dangerous — if you work outside.

Heat exhaustion can come on quickly when the body overheats to 40 C. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, nausea, headache, clammy skin and intense thirst. Worse, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a more serious condition that can cause brain damage, unconsciousness and even death.

So how can you protect yourself (or your employees) from heat hazards at work? Here are some pointers, whether the work happens outdoors or inside under hot conditions.

  1. Acclimatize. If you’re new to the job or you’ve been away from work for a week or more, give your body a chance to adapt to the hot working conditions. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), people typically need six to seven days to thoroughly acclimatize.
  2. Heed the humidex. Humidex ratings tell us how hot we actually feel when heat and humidity mix to an uncomfortable or unsafe degree. The higher the humidex, the harder it is to cool down by sweating. It’s important that employers monitor other factors that affect how hot it feels in the workplace, such as air flow, workload, radiant heat sources, and the age and physical health of workers.
  3. Drink lots of water. When your sweat glands are working overtime, you need to stay hydrated. Aim to drink about one litre of water every hour and stay away from caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating.
  4. Seek shade. Avoid working in the sun — particularly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest. And don’t forget to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours if you do work in the sun.
  5. Wear protective clothing. If you’re working outdoors, opt for light-coloured clothing, a hat and sunglasses (or safety glasses with UV protection, depending on the task). People who work in very hot environments or around high radiant heat (from furnaces, steam pipes or hot metal, for example) may need to wear heat-reflective clothing or special suits cooled by air, water or ice.
  6. Look out for each other! People generally don’t notice when they have heat exhaustion, so it’s important that workers be trained in recognizing its signs and symptoms and when to call for medical help.

For more information on working in hot environments, read these posts from the CCOHS:

Hot Environments – Health Effects and First Aid

Humidex Rating and Work

Temperature Conditions – Hot