Protecting workers from heat stress

Symptoms include excessive sweating, headache and fainting

With the summer shaping up to be a hot and humid one in Ontario, the provincial government is encouraging employers and workers to learn how to protect themselves from heat stress.

"Workers and their employers need to take steps now to ensure they are aware of the dangers of heat stress, and know how to prevent them. Employers have a duty to protect their employees from all workplace hazards, including heat and hot weather," said Minister of Labour Peter Fonseca.

When heat is combined with other factors such as hard physical work, fluid loss, fatigue or some medical conditions, it can lead to illness, disability and even death.

Heat stress can affect anyone, including the young and fit, and can be a concern in many workplaces. Workers most at risk for heat stress include those in hot environments, such as smelters, furnaces, bakeries and outdoors during the summer.

Symptoms of heat stress can include excessive sweating, headache, rashes, cramping, dizziness and fainting.

Prolonged exposure to heat stress can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition. The victims of heat stroke are often unable to notice the symptoms, and their survival may depend on co-workers' ability to identify symptoms and to seek immediate medical assistance.

Some of the ways workers can protect themselves from heat stress include:

• Drinking lots of fluids to replace perspiration. Try drinking a cup of water about every 20 minutes.

• Avoiding working in direct sunlight (to reduce heat gain and risk of sunburn).

• Reducing the pace of work.

• Increasing the number of breaks and taking breaks in cool or shaded areas.

• Scheduling heavy work for cooler periods.

• Wearing light-coloured and/or light-weight clothing.

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