Heat Stress: What You Need to Know
Heat stress is defined as the heat load to which workers are exposed. It’s the result of the combination of the environmental conditions in the workplace, the physical activity they have to perform, and the clothing they wear to do the job.
In other words, heat stress refers to a problem in the work environment. It’s not a simple effect of heat on workers, but rather the cause of a series of negative consequences on the body as a result of an accumulation of heat.
What’s more, the situation worsens in times of more heat. Therefore, in this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about heat stress.
What is heat stress?
There are many jobs, such as in furnaces or foundries, where employees are subject to high temperatures. For others, they must carry out significant physical effort or wear protective equipment that causes heat to build up.
The truth is that in all of these situations, workers are at risk of accumulating excessive heat, which is a major health risk. When the body’s temperature rises, the body sets regulation mechanisms in motion. For example, it may induce sweating or the vasodilation of the skin’s blood vessels.
When these conditions occur, the body may have problems reducing its temperature. If the temperature exceeds 38ºC, it can cause damage to a person’s health. If it continues to rise, it can even cause death.
The severity of the effects of heat stress varies according to certain factors. The most influential are the following:
- The age and health of the worker
- The time he or she has been exposed to high temperatures
- Lack of rest
- Some medications, such as antihistamines or anxiolytics
- The consumption of alcohol or drugs
- Workplace and clothing
- Lack of acclimatization. This is the process by which the body adapts to the environment and temperature. This takes some time, so acclimatization should be progressive. Ideally, it should last between one and two weeks.
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What can cause heat stress?
Heat stress can increase the risk of accidents at work. Also, if the employee already has some pathology, things may become worse. At first, with the increase in temperature, the person usually feels a sensation of suffocation or dizziness.
The heat also causes headaches, lack of concentration, and memory disorders. It can even cause mood swings. If the high temperatures persist over time, they can produce:
- Dehydration, with all that it entails (dryness, tachycardia, reduced urination, etc.)
- Muscle cramps
- Syncopes and fainting
- Skin rashes
- Exhaustion and nausea
However, the most important complication is heatstroke. This is an urgent situation characterized by tachycardia and confusion. Also, breathing becomes rapid and weak. The person may faint and their temperature may exceed 40ºC.
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How can we prevent it?
As we’ve mentioned, all these problems arise from the accumulation of heat in the body. Also, since this is a work situation, both the company and the workers must be aware of it. Everyone must take measures to try to prevent this problem.
First of all, it’s necessary to make sure that proper acclimatization to heat has taken place. Similarly, the workplace must adapt to these temperatures. Furthermore, one should try to do the work in the shade.
If this isn’t possible, then’s it’s advisable to carry out tasks during the hours of the day when it’s least hot. Therefore, it’s important to avoid work between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. It’s also a good idea to establish shifts for employees.
Ideally, employees should take frequent breaks and in cool places. Also, it’s necessary to hydrate properly throughout the day. Meals should be light and, of course, it’s important to avoid alcohol.
Heat stress is a situation that affects many types of workers. Therefore, it’s necessary to take all possible measures to try to prevent it. It’s advisable to try to have mechanical assistance to improve physical effort at work.
If this isn’t possible, try to reduce the accumulation of heat. Wearing adequate clothing, protecting your head, and hydrating properly are all essential measures. Similarly, you need to take sufficient breaks and regain your strength in cool places.