With today’s scientists pointing to climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” it is no wonder that the demand for air conditioning and refrigeration equipment has also increased significantly over the last few years. Incredibly, July, August and September tied or exceeded any previous year for the warmest on record in Canada.

With spiked temperatures comes health risks for people, so does the incidence of illness, emergency room visits and death. Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

There are also indirect effects of heat-exacerbated, life-threatening illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases. The cause of heat stress is a working environment which can potentially overwhelm the body’s ability to deal with heat, this includes workers who perform outdoor work and those working in hot environments.

Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness. Burns may also occur as a result of accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam. When the environmental temperature rises above 30°C, changes in blood flow and excessive sweating reduce a person’s ability to perform physical and mental work causing additional problems for the entire work site.

Heat stress symptoms are a set of natural signals telling you that something needs to be done to balance your body’s heating and cooling. As your body heats up, it tries to rid itself of excess heat through the evaporation of sweat. If it is unable to cool itself this way, your body temperature will increase. When body temperature gets above 38- 39°C, the brain starts to overheat, leading to a shutdown of your body’s cooling system (sweating stops). Your temperature now rises even faster, leading to heat stroke and possibly death.

As the average temperature rises we should take heed and be proactive to avoid heat related illnesses. We can reduce the physical demands of a work task through mechanical assistance. We can utilize a buddy system to observe one another for signs of heat intolerance, which can help us to manage the risk associated with extreme heat exposures. Workers should stay hydrated by drinking water every 15–20 minutes or during prolonged sweating by drinking sports drinks containing electrolytes to reduce the chance of heat related ailments. Workers and supervisors can schedule strenuous jobs for cooler times of the day. Wearing light summer clothing that allow free air movement and sweat evaporation will help and workers should cover their heads to prevent exposure to direct sunlight will help minimize sun exposure.

With a combined effort and collective knowledge, we can work towards the prevention of heat related occupational illness during these blistering months of summer.

Safety Evolution can help to ensure you are providing your workers with all the tools they need to understand heat exhaustion and the symptoms of sunstroke and other heat related illnesses.