Hot Stuff! Working In Hot Weather

shutterstock_33667429It is rare indeed that we get extremely hot days in Ireland, but earlier this month, we enjoyed quite a few.

While this is wonderful for people who can take the day off to bask in it, for most tradespeople and people in the construction industry, it is just another day at the office – although it can be an excruciating one if you don’t take proper precautions in the heat.

It takes approximately seven days to acclimatise to extreme weather, but since we are unlikely to get that kind of a run, it is important to know signs to look out for that you are being affected by the heat and precautions you can take against it.

Heat stress is the overall heat load on the body, including environmental heat and inner body heat production due to working hard. While mild or moderate heat stress may be uncomfortable and affect performance and safety it is not usually harmful to your health.

Known as Hyperthermia symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness / faintness
  • Irritability / anger / mood change
  • Fatigue
  • Heavy sweating
  • Prickly heat (heat rash)
  • Muscle cramps (especially after
    several days of exposure)
  • Changes to breathing and pulse
  • Dehydration

As heat stress worsens, the more extreme symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness (having trouble catching your breath)
  • A strong rapid pulse changes to a weak rapid pulse
  • Severe headache
  • Severe muscle cramps
  • Confusion
  • Skin goes from feeling cold and
    clammy to hot and dry
  • Severe dehydration
  • Sweating may stop
  • Exhaustion
  • Coma and possible death

Being aware of the signs above is the first step towards preventing heat stress. Obviously you can take precautions such as working in the shade where possible, wearing a hat and keeping hydrated.

You won’t necessarily know if you are dehydrated, as you may not “feel thirsty”, so prevention is better than cure. While working in extreme heat, you should drink about 250ml (1 cup) of water every 15-20 minutes. Also, ensure you are hydrated before beginning work. The average person working in a hot environment loses water and salt through sweat so on average you should drink about one litre of water an hour to replace this. Unacclimatised workers can lose up to 5 or 6 litres of fluid in an 8-hour shift.

Certain drugs like tranquilizers and diuretics can increase your susceptibility to the heat stress. Also, if you are in poor physical health or suffering a condition such as diarrhea you will be more susceptible. Heat stress requires immediate medical attention and usually the person suffering can’t recognize the symptoms so it becomes the responsibility of all co-workers to look out for each other. If one person suffered the others can usually follow so take it as a sign to move everyone to a cooler area.

You should get professional medical help for the affected person but while you wait on that to arrive move them to a cooler area. Wbile ideally you should try and get them to an air conditioned building or vehicle just moving them to the shade evan help. Take off any excess clothing such as hard hats, overalls etcand if they can sip it themselves give them water to drink. do not give them anything with caffeine or alcohol as this will exacerbate the condition. Use cold compresses and rapid fanning to cool them down. If you have access to ice packs (many first aid kits now contain the “instant” packs that you squeeze to activate) wrap them in a cloth and place them on the wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool large blood vessels.

Unless you have proper training, DO NOT immerse the victim in cold water. While this cools the body more efficiently, it can interfere with vital brain functions and should only be done under close medical supervision. As with all injured people, make sure their airway is clear and keep an eye on their breathing.

Managed properly, there is no reason why work should grind to a halt in a heatwave but when in doubt always put safety first and down tools.