It is no story that there could be situations where workers are exposed to excessive heat in the workplace; and one will wonder “Don’t We Have Heat PPE“?
Before we go ahead, lets have an overview on Heat at Work (Heat Stress)
Workers at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments such as firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, and others.
What is Heat Stress
Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. Air temperature, work rate, humidity and work clothing are all factors which can cause heat stress. It may not be obvious to someone passing through the workplace that there is a risk of heat stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stress
- Thirst (although remember that thirst is not a reliable indicator of hydration status)
- Dark yellow colored urine with a strong odor (compare to a urine color chart for an indication of level of dehydration)
- Flushed skin
- Heavy sweating
- Fatigue (heat exhaustion)
- Increase in body temperature
- Dizziness or loss of orientation
- Decreased cognitive function (decreased situational awareness, poor judgement)
- Loss of balance, leading to an increased risk of slips, trips, and falls
- Heat syncope while standing upright (temporary circulatory failure) with symptoms of light-headedness or dizziness.
PPE Can Add To Heat Stress
Wearing certain types of PPE can increase core body temperature (i.e., Internal temperature) more quickly than wearing other types of PPE in the same environment.
Read Also: Heat stress – Symptoms and prevention
PPE’s like Waterproof aprons, Surgical gowns, Surgical caps, Respirators, Face shields, Boots, Gloves, etc, can actually cause more heat to users by;
- Reducing the body’s normal way of getting rid of heat by sweating and other means.
- Holds excess heat and moisture inside, making the worker’s body even hotter.
- Increases the physical effort to perform duties while carrying the extra weight of the PPE and can lead to the worker getting hotter faster (e.g., working muscle increases body heat production).
Going back to the main point of this article – Heat PPE: Which PPE Can be Used to Prevent Heat in the Workplace?
There is actually NO HEAT PREVENTIVE PPE, but the choice of PPE combine with the work process can help reduce exposure to heat and also manage heat generated so that workers involve in such heat generating task will not develop heat related illnesses.
Before you start a job where workers may be exposed to heat or generate heat, do these –
Carry out proper risk assessment:
When carrying out your risk assessment, the major factors you need to consider are:
- Work rate – The harder someone works the more body heat they generate;
- Working climate – this includes air temperature, humidity, air movement and
effects of working near a heat source;
- Worker’s clothing and respiratory protective equipment – May mean that
sweating and other means of the body regulating its temperature are less
- Worker’s age, build and medical factors – may affect an individual’s tolerance.
How to Control the Risk
- Control the temperature using engineering solutions, e.g change the processes, use fans or air conditioning, use physical barriers that reduce exposure to radiant heat.
- Provide mechanical aids where possible to reduce the work rate.
- Regulate the length of exposure to hot environments by:
– Allowing workers to enter only when the temperature is below a set level or at cooler times of the day;
– Issuing permits to work that specify how long your workers should work in situations where there is a risk;
– Providing periodic rest breaks and rest facilities in cooler conditions.
- Prevent dehydration. Working in a hot environment causes sweating which helps keep people cool but means losing vital water that must be replaced. Provide cool water in the workplace and encourage workers to drink it frequently in small amounts before, during (where possible) and after working.
- Provide personal protective equipment. Specialised personal protective clothing is available which can incorporate personal cooling systems or breathable fabrics. The use of some protective clothing or respiratory protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
- Provide training for your workers, especially new and young employees, telling them about the risks of heat stress associated with their work, what symptoms to look out for, safe working practices and emergency procedures.
- Allow workers to acclimatise to their environment and identify which workers are acclimatised or assessed as fit to work in hot conditions.
- Identify employees who are more susceptible to heat stress because of an illness, condition or medication that may contribute to the early onset of heat stress, eg pregnant women or those with heart conditions. You may need advice from an occupational health professional.
- Monitor the health of workers at risk. Where a residual risk remains after implementing as many control measures as practicable, you may need to monitor the health of workers exposed to the risk. You should then seek advice from an occupational health professional.
When talking about Heat PPE, consider this – COOLING PPE
Generally, people working in hot conditions should wear garments made of cotton or other natural fibre, such as linen or silk. Outdoor workers should cover as much skin as possible, wearing long sleeves and pants. Choose clothing that is lightweight, loose fitting and comfortable.
“The air gaps help insulate you against the heat. Also wear light-coloured clothing. Dark colours absorb heat.
Finally, you can shop for – Thermal, and Heat Resistant PPE.