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Working Wise: Keeping Your Cool in the Heat

Dear Working Wise,

I’m working on a road repair crew this summer. A couple of days have already been so hot that I felt like I was going to pass out. What can I do to keep my cool this summer?
Signed, Overheated

July 5, 2017

Dear Overheated:

Our bodies work best in a very narrow temperature range. Raising or lowering your core temperature a couple of degrees beyond normal (98.6° F or 37° C) can cause severe damage to your brain, heart and other organs.

We sweat and shiver to help regulate temperature. If you don’t replace the fluid you lose from sweating, you can dehydrate and your body will stop sweating. Heat will build up and you will be in serious trouble.

Early warning signs of heat stress include: headache, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, heavy sweating, heat rash, muscle cramps, dehydration, and changes in breathing and pulse.

Employers are required to protect the health and safety of their workers. That means identifying and taking steps to mitigate all hazards, including extreme temperatures. It’s up to each employer to determine how best to do that at each work site.

Here are some tips employers should think about:

  • create shade and work in the shade when possible
  • have workers wear reflective/insulated/cooled clothing near heat sources
  • limit sun exposure, especially during peak times (noon – 3 p.m.)
  • encourage workers to drink small amounts of water frequently ,i.e. a cup every 20 minutes (employers are required to provide water at their work sites)

You can keep your cool this summer by following these tips:

  • take short frequent breaks away from the heat/sun
  • wear loose-fitting lightweight clothing that wicks sweat away from the skin
  • avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol and pop, because they tend to dehydrate you
  • wear a wide-brimmed hat, UV-absorbent sunglasses and minimum SPF 30 sunscreen

You and your employer can also help limit the effects of working in the heat by:

  • avoiding intense physical activity during the hottest times of the day
  • implementing a schedule of work and rest periods
  • providing a cool rest area for workers to recuperate.

Other ways to keep cool at work include:

  • lowering the air temperature with air conditioning
  • rotating workers between more and less demanding activities
  • increasing air circulation by using a fan or opening a door or window
  • lowering the humidity using an air conditioner, dehumidifier or ventilation system
  • decreasing exposure to radiant heat (e.g., asphalt, heavy machinery, etc.) by moving hot equipment away from the work area, moving the work away from things that radiate heat, or by using barriers to reflect or block the sun/heat.

For more tips and information on working safely in the heat, check out the Government of Alberta’s booklet: Best Practice – Working Safely in the Heat and Cold.

If you have safety concerns at your work site, please call Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) at 1-866-415-8690 (780-415-8690 in Edmonton).

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/kozmoat98

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