The Dangers of Heat Exposure

July 29 2016

James Patten


With high temperatures, it’s vital to remain hydrated and safe in the workplace, especially if you work outdoors or in a hot environment. Exposure to heat is hazardous for your health and can even result in occupational illnesses and accidents – mainly because heat can lead to sweaty palms, dizziness and burns. Remaining cool in the workplace should be a priority this summer, no matter where you work.

Why is Heat Dangerous?

When people are exposed to a hot environment, their bodies try to get rid of the heat and maintain a normal, constant temperature, typically through sweating and sending blood to the skin. When the heat is excessive, however, sweating loses some of its efficacy, especially because the humidity levels are high and don’t allow evaporation.

If this happens, then the body will store heat instead of releasing it, making your heart rate increase, as well as your body’s overall temperature. Eventually, this process can lead to lack of concentration, light-headedness, irritability, heat rash, and many heat-related illnesses.

Who’s More Susceptible to Heat?

When temperatures rise, babies, children and the elderly are usually more affected by the heat, when compared to the adult population. In the workplace, the people who are more at risk are, on average, the ones with underlying illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, pregnant women and employees doing physically strenuous activities.

However, everyone can develop health issues due to excessive heat if the temperatures in the workplace are higher than 30oC, especially if heavy work is being conducted. At present there are no regulations in place that impose a maximum temperature in the workplace, although two MPs are currently trying to change this.

This means that employers could potentially be legally obliged to provide water, air conditioning and breaks in the workplace to fight temperatures above 30oC, or 27 oC if the job requires strenuous activities.

Impact of Heat Exposure on Health

If you start feeling the effects of excessive heat, it’s important that you prevent them from worsening, otherwise you may develop serious health problems.

Heat exhaustion occurs when you become hot and start to lose water or salt from your body, which will leave you confused, tired, weak, with muscles cramps and headaches, and with a low blood pressure. You can also faint and feel extremely disoriented.

Heatstroke is even more severe and happens when your body reaches the point when it’s not able to cool itself anymore, and its temperature becomes dangerously high. While this problem can develop after prolonged exposure to direct sunlight (which can also lead to sunburns), it can also evolve if heat exhaustion is not treated early.

Heatstroke can put a strain on your heart, brain, lungs, liver and kidneys, which means that, in the worst case scenario, your life can be threatened.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

While it’s important to ensure your air conditioner is well maintained this summer, so that you can remain comfortable and productive both at home and at work, it’s equally crucial to ensure that you take other measures.

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help you keep your body fluid levels up and, therefore, avoid heat stress and its consequences. You should also reduce the amount of time you spend in the heat, whether under the sun or not, so that you don’t start to feel its physical impact.

Keeping an eye on early signs of heat exhaustion in yourself and your co-workers can also help reduce the number of health issues in the workplace.

Exposure to heat in the workplace should be avoided at all costs, as it can have severe consequences on employees’ health and, of course, it can reduce productivity and increase sick days. Avoiding this problem is something that all employees need to do by performing simple acts, such as drinking more water, but the workplace also needs to provide the best working conditions. This means ensuring everyone has equal access to the cooling effect of the air conditioning system.

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