Beat the heat

As the thermometer soars, so does the risk to employees. Here are some signs to watch for and tips to prevent heat exhaustion

As the temperature soars across the country this week, and into the summer months, employers need to keep an eye on staff to ensure they don’t suffer from heat exhaustion.

"Symptoms include dizziness, muscle cramps, headache, profuse sweating, fatigue, nausea and fainting," said Wayne MacDonald, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health. "Persons showing any signs of heat exhaustion should be moved to a cool, preferably air-conditioned environment, receive cool, non-alcoholic beverages and rest.”

Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening situation. In addition to the above signs of heat exhaustion, signs of heat stroke can include red, hot, dry skin, an extremely high body temperature, throbbing headache and confusion that may progress to unconsciousness.

MacDonald said anyone displaying symptoms of heat stroke needs immediate medical attention. In the meantime, get the victim to a cool area and cool them rapidly using whatever method available.

Here are some tips to prevent heat illness:

•Offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages (liquids such as water and beverages without caffeine) to staff. As a general rule, drink 250 ml every 20 minutes.

•Salt replacement (every fourth drink)

•Limit physical activity, allow for breaks and heat relief from the sun.

•Fans won’t prevent heat illness once the temperature exceeds 30 degrees. It just circulates the hot air over the person. A cool bath or shower is a more effective way to cool off.

If working outside, it’s important to protect staff from the effects of the sun. “Exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun can cause sunburn, premature aging of the skin, skin cancer and cataracts,” said MacDonald. He offers these tips when working outdoors:

•Cover up with light, loose fitting clothes and wear a wide-brimmed hat.

•Wear sunglasses that provide protection against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays.

•Use a sunscreen with SPF of at least 15. Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours, and direct exposure should be avoided between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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