How to survive a heatwave at work

Jul 25 2022, 5:17 pm

As a heatwave ripples through the province this week, WorkSafeBC is reminding employers to keep workers safe from heat stress after seeing a 180% increase in heat stress-related claims last year.

“Whether you are working outdoors on a farm or construction site, or indoors in a restaurant kitchen, or a factory floor — heat stress can cause serious injuries and even death,” said WorkSafeBC in a release.

“As temperatures rise, employers need to be aware of the risks to their workers — both indoor and outdoor — and implement measures to keep workers safe.”

On Monday, July 25, Environment Canada issued weather warnings for much of BC, including Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The heatwave is expected to last the entire week until things slowly start to cool by the weekend.

heat wave

ECCC

Senior Manager of Prevention Field Services at WorkSafeBC Suzana Prpic said in a release that last year’s record-shattering heat dome raised awareness about the hazards of working in high temperatures.

It’s not just people working outside who are at risk, either. In 2021, 35% of heat stress claims were for indoor workers.

“Workers in buildings or vehicles without adequate HVAC systems to mitigate sustained heat are increasingly at risk of heat-related injuries,” Prpic said.

Working during a heat wave

Employers in BC are required by WorkSafeBC “to conduct heat stress assessments to prevent heat-stress injuries” and have a plan to keep everyone safe. Here are WorkSafeBC’s tips for how employers and workers can create a safe work environment during extreme heat events:

Prevention of Heat Stress: Employers

  • Monitor heat conditions and require workers not to work alone.
  • Ensure there is adequate first-aid coverage and emergency procedures are in place.
  • Make physical modifications to facilities, equipment, processes to reduce exposure.
  • Change work practices and policies to limit the risk.
  • Determine appropriate work-rest cycles; when a worker feels ill it may be too late.
  • Rotate work activities or use additional workers to reduce exposure.
  • Establish cooling areas with shade and water.

Prevention of Heat Stress: Workers

  • Drink plenty of water (one glass every 20 minutes).
  • Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric, such as cotton.
  • Take rest breaks in a cool, well-ventilated area.
  • Do hard physical work during the coolest parts of the day, before 11 am and after 3 pm.
  • Know your personal risk factors, such as medications and any pre-existing conditions.
  • Check the signs and symptoms for yourself and co-workers.

Look out for the early warning signs of heat stress because it can lead to more serious conditions like heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

More resources about heat stress at work can be found on the WorkSafeBC website. You can check out HealthLink BC for resources on heat-related illnesses or call them at 8-1-1.

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