Understanding the symptoms of heat stress and its effect on safety

Summer in the UK is on its way, and it looks like over the next few days the country will be basking in temperatures of up to 30 degrees.

While this is great news for tourism, and no doubt the beach resorts will be selling out of ice creams, for some of us, it can be tough.

Over the weekend, some people are going to be working in industries that are already hot by nature, and coupled with the humidity and high temperatures, it can become unbearable, and that’s when problems occur.

Safety equipment is usually heavy. Jackets, harnesses, and ropes are made to be tough, and that means there can be a temptation to loosen them or take them off to keep cool, but that can obviously lead to safety issues.

Heat Stress

One of the most dangerous things that can occur to people wearing protective equipment is heat stress.

The body tends to cool down by sweating, and safety equipment can have the side effect of stopping sweat evaporation, meaning the body can’t cool.

As the core body temperature rises, the amount of sweat produced will be increases, and this can lead to dehydration and an increased heart rate. These two issues together begin to put more strain on the body.

Put simply, if the amount of heat being lost is less than the heat being dissipated, the body’s control mechanisms will begin to fail.

Although it affects people in different ways, there are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • an inability to concentrate
  • muscle cramps
  • heat rash
  • severe thirst - a late symptom of heat stress
  • fainting
  • heat exhaustion - fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
  • heat stroke - hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage

How to mitigate the effects of heat

There are many ways of preparing workers for the heat, but unfortunately for us in the UK, the amount of hot weather we get is fairly low compared to some countries making acclimatisation hard.

Even so, if the temperature rises, then it’s far better to have shorter shifts with lots of breaks allowing staff to get used to the heat. Eventually, they’ll be able to work longer as the body adapts but be prepared.

Also, ensure everyone knows the symptoms associated with heat stress. If you notice them early enough, you can prepare and ensure nobody suffers.

Have lots of breaks and drink plenty of water. As water is lost through evaporation, and bodies tend to sweat more in the heat, it makes sense to drink more.

Avoid coffee, tea and alcohol. Even though they do have water in them, there can be other effects, especially from alcohol which will have a greater effect on dehydrated bodies.

And finally, if the temperature keeps rising then it might be time to call it a day, and relax in the garden!