Surviving The Heat: Dangers Of Working In Hot Environments
Working in hot environments can be dangerous, and equally stressful. Heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke are all common conditions that workers can experience when working under hot conditions.
Such heat-related illnesses can even lead to fatalities in extreme cases. This is why it is essential to educate workers and employers to take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe working environment.
s In this blog, we will discuss the dangers of working in hot environments, identify the various industries where this practice is common, and the measures that can be taken to protect workers' health and safety.
Working in Hot Environments
In regions with predominantly cold climates or during winter seasons, companies prioritized keeping workers warm to ensure their comfort and prevent cold-related illnesses. Industries such as agriculture, construction, and manufacturing often operated in outdoor or poorly insulated environments, where protection from the cold was crucial for worker safety and productivity.
Workers continue to be exposed to high levels of heat in factories, steel production, coal mines, and agriculture. While protective measures such as heat-resistant clothing and engineering controls (e.g., ventilation systems) are important for mitigating heat-related risks, they may involve significant upfront costs. Companies found it more cost-effective to focus on measures that help employees cope with the heat, such as providing cooling stations, training on heat stress management, and flexible work schedules, rather than investing in extensive infrastructure or equipment modifications.
What Are The Different Types Of Heat Hazards?
Heat hazards in the workplace may seem like a minor issue, but they can actually lead to fatal consequences. Workers who are exposed to extreme heat for long periods of time are at risk of suffering from heat illnesses like stroke, exhaustion, and dehydration.
And with the effects of climate change becoming more evident, the instances of heat hazards in the workplace are increasing. This is why it is important to understand the different types of heat hazards that workers may face, so that they can be prevented, mitigated, and managed.
- High Temperatures
The most common type of heat hazard is working in high temperatures. Workers who are required to work outdoors, or in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, are at risk of being exposed to high heat levels, with an almost constantly high body temperature. High temperatures can cause dehydration, dizziness, and fatigue, which can lead to reduced productivity and even accidents. Workers who are exposed to high temperatures should take regular breaks, have access to shaded areas, and be provided with adequate amounts of water.
- Radiant Heat
Radiant heat is a type of heat hazard that is caused by exposure to hot surfaces, such as furnaces, ovens, and metal surfaces. Occupational safety is always a concern in such an industry. Workers who work in close proximity to these radiant surfaces are at risk of suffering from skin burns, eye injuries, and heat stress. To prevent radiant heat exposure, workers should be provided with protective gear, such as gloves, face shields, and heat-resistant clothing. In addition, these surfaces should be properly insulated to reduce the emission of heat.
- Conductive Heat
Conductive heat is a type of heat hazard that is caused by direct contact with hot materials, such as machinery, tools, and surfaces. Workers who handle hot materials or operate machinery in such a hot environment that generates excess heat are at risk of suffering from skin burns, heat rashes, and heat stroke. Workers exposed to conductive heat exposure should wear heat-resistant gloves, avoid direct contact with hot surfaces, and handle hot materials with care.
- Chemical Heat
Chemical heat is a type of heat hazard that is caused by exposure to chemicals that generate heat when they come into contact with water or air. Workers who work in industries that involve the use of chemicals, such as manufacturing, mining, and construction, are at risk of being exposed to chemical heat. This can result in skin burns, respiratory problems, and allergic reactions. To prevent chemical heat exposure, workers should be provided with protective gear, such as goggles, respirators, and chemical-resistant clothing. Furthermore, there should be adequate measures to ensure consistent air movement if not much else.
- Electrical Heat
Electrical heat is a type of heat hazard that is caused by exposure to high-voltage electrical currents. Workers who work with electrical equipment or in environments with high-voltage currents are at risk of being exposed to electrical heat. This can result in skin burns, cardiac arrest, and even death. To prevent electrical heat exposure, workers should be trained to follow proper electrical safety protocols, wear protective gear, and avoid working in wet environments.
What Kind Of Jobs And Industries Are Most Affected By Heat Hazards?
With the globalization of economies and the rise of industrialization, industries are becoming decentralized urban heat islands and more and more jobs are subject to the risk of heat hazards. This can cause a devastating effect on workers' health, with prolonged exposure increasing the risk of heat stroke, dehydration, and exhaustion.
Accidents and fatalities have been reported in workplaces due to the effects of heat stress. It's important to identify what kind of jobs and industries are most affected by heat hazards, and what can be done to mitigate the risks.
Jobs that are most affected by heat stress include those in construction, agriculture, factories, warehouses, and outdoor workers such as landscaping, roofing & mining, where direct exposure to sunlight or hot temperatures is part of the job. Due to the nature of work and the weather conditions in some regions, workers who spend extended periods under direct sunlight have a heightened risk of heat stroke and cramps.
Heat hazards pose a significant threat to the healthcare industry as well. High temperatures can compromise drug storage, medical supplies & equipment, while exposure to high temperatures can also cause fatigue and exhaustion among healthcare workers.
Farm workers are one of the most vulnerable groups to heat-related illnesses due to the nature of their work. They are required to work long hours outdoors during the hottest months of the year, exposing them to high temperatures and direct sunlight. Furthermore, the use of clothing and personal protective equipment such as gloves and hats increases the risk of heat exhaustion in extreme heat events.
The construction industry is another industry with high-risk job types for heat exposure. Workers are often exposed to long hours of physical labor in direct sunlight, high humidity, and high temperatures. Combine this with heavy machinery and equipment that can generate additional heat, and it becomes apparent that a proactive approach to heat stress management is required.
Many industries such as steel factories, refineries, and glass plants have hot conditions as part of the manufacturing process. High temperatures are created during the heating, pouring, and casting of molten metals, creating an environment that is challenging and dangerous.
- Emergency services
Personnel such as firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are exposed to high levels of heat stress as part of their job. These experts are often required to respond to emergencies during hot weather, increasing the risk of heat illness. PPE gear, especially firefighting gear that consists of several layers of protective clothing, can contribute to the risk of heat stress.
- Outdoor Service
Many services require workers to be in the field,going from one client to another, such as pest control, landscaping, and delivery workers. These workers are at increased risk of heat illness due to sun exposure and repeated activity. Employers should provide adequate water and rest areas, especially in areas with limited or no shade.
Why Can We Expect A Growth Of This Issue In The
And How Can We Prevent It?
Workers toiling away in hot and onerous conditions is nothing new and this trend doesn't seem to be disappearing anytime soon. There are several factors contributing to this harmful trend.
Changing Work Patterns
As companies increasingly move towards 24-hour operations, the number of people working in hot environments at night has increased. Workers in mining, manufacturing, construction, and hospitality have to work odd hours and weekends to hit their targets. This shift is due in part to increased demand for products in society today and due to efficiency reasons.
The proliferation of global trade agreements is driving companies to look for ways to reduce expenses, which may be leading to indirect pressure on employees to continue working despite the heat in dangerous conditions to cut down lead times and meet orders. Competition in pricing and delivery times pushes companies to sometimes abuse or ignore regulations around work environments' safety, which can trigger hot and onerous working environments.
The issue becomes more complicated when we consider having aging workers. As a result, it is more challenging for older workers to regulate their body temperature in hot environments, leading to increased risks of heat-related illness.
So, How Do We Prevent These Heat Hazards?
So, how can employers prevent heat-related hazards for their workers? One solution is through proper engineering and administrative controls that provide airflow, cooling systems, or reduced exposure time to high temperatures.
The use of personal protective equipment like passive cooling backpacks, head covers, vests, and more is one innovative and cost-effective way of protecting workers. Another critical preventative measure is to have a plan in place to identify the early stages of heat-related illness and deal with them quickly.
Ultimately, by being proactive in following all the safety guidelines and taking early action with prevention, employers can mitigate the risk of employees suffering from heat-related illnesses and improve productivity overall.