By: Carmen Capitano, GSC, NCSO, Health & Safety Manager
The temperature is soaring and this year in Ontario, summer weather is predicted to continue into September and October. Though this is a welcome change after a long, cold winter, summer heat can pose unique health and safety risks to outdoor workers.
When a person works in a hot environment, the body gets rid of excess heat through blood circulation and sweating, in order to maintain a stable internal temperature. However, when the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. Sweating is only effective if the humidity level is low enough for it to evaporate, and if the fluids and salts that are lost are adequately replaced.
Here are some tips to stay safe while working outdoors this summer:
Stay alert to signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Signs of heat exhaustion can include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, thirst, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps and elevated body temperature. Heatstroke may develop following heat exhaustion if the condition is not treated. Signs of heatstroke can include confusion or fainting, dry, hot skin, convulsions or seizures. Because heat stroke victims often don’t recognize their own symptoms, it is critically important for co-workers to be aware of the signs and symptoms, and seek medical help immediately.
Balance your workload
Where possible, schedule your workload to allow frequent breaks. Find shaded, cooled or air-conditioned areas to take your breaks. If none exist onsite, your vehicle could provide a temporary refuge. Ease into your workload and plan to complete the most physically demanding tasks during cooler times of the day. It takes some time to build up a tolerance to heat, so new workers should be especially cautious.
Dress for hot conditions
Cover up as much as possible with light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing. Working outdoors without a shirt or hat allows the sun to dry sweat too quickly, preventing it from cooling the body. Consider attaching a back flap to your helmet to cover the back of your neck and a visor to protect your face.
Protect your skin
Between the times of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., a worker is exposed to two-thirds of the day’s ultraviolet radiation. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, 20 minutes before working outdoors. Using a chemical and mineral combination sunscreen is the best option as it provides the most effective UV protection. You should also wear a broad spectrum SPF 30 lip balm, and reapply sunscreen and lip balm frequently such as every 1-2 hours or more often as required.
Don’t wait until you are thirsty – drink cool water every 15-20 minutes and aim for about 1 litre per hour. Make sure you bring ample amounts of potable water with you onsite. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine. When snacking, opt for foods with a high water and fiber content such as watermelon, cucumbers, kiwis, pomegranates and pears. Avoid foods that have a warming effect on the body – cured meats, fried food and food containing spices such as garlic, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.