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Heat Stress

 

Heat related stress occurs when the body is unable to adequately cool itself. Normally the body reduces temperature through sweat, however sometimes this is not enough.

Heat stress can range from minor symptoms and conditions such as cramps, rashes and headaches through to very serious conditions such as dehydration and heat stroke which can lead to death.

Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, but those most at risk are people that are:

  • Overweight
  • Medically unfit
  • Unhealthy, particularly if suffering from disease of the heart, circulation, or skin
  • Dehydrated, whether from alcohol hangovers, from failure to replace water and salt lost in sweating, or from medically-prescribed diuretic drugs, and
  • Not acclimatised to heat

It is recognised that in some indoor workplaces the temperature and air quality are less than ideal. As a result employees and visitors may suffer discomfort. A person's perception of thermal comfort is affected by air temperature, air movement, humidity, clothing, activity level (i.e. the amount of physical work done), mean radiant temperature (the average temperature of the walls, floor windows, etc.) and many other factors.

Control of heat stress in the workplace

An employer must ensure that:

  • Adequate ventilation and air movement is provided in indoor environments that may become hot; and
  • Appropriate work and rest regimes relative to the physical fitness, general health, medication taken and body weight of each employee exposed to heat are implemented.

Personal care

General tips to assist in coping with heat stress include:

  • Have rest breaks in a cool or well-ventilated place, under trees, shelters and umbrellas
  • Do not consume alcoholic drinks or drinks containing caffeine as replacement fluids because it stimulates the body to eliminate fluid
  • Salt tablets are not recommended although salt replacement is important. Dietary salt intake is only likely to be inadequate at very high sweat rates, and
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Treatment of heat stress

The following action should be taken if someone has symptoms of heat injury:

  • Remove them from heat and rest them in the shade
  • Cool them down with a fine spray of water and fan them
  • Remove excess clothing (eg hard hat, boots, shirt)
  • Do not consume alcoholic drinks or drinks containing caffeine as replacement fluids because it stimulates the body to eliminate fluids
  • Do not give salt or alcohol, and
  • Contact a doctor, nurse or first aid officer immediately

If you need any further information regarding heat stress or require the preparation of work procedures for use in your workplace one of Prensa’s experienced occupational health and safety consultants will be able to assist.