Blog: Avoiding Heat Stress in the Workplace25 Jun 2020
In some workplaces, heat stress can be an issue all year round. For example, in bakeries and kitchens, laundries, boiler rooms, foundries and smelting operations. In these sectors working in the heat may be the norm but for many others it can become a real issue during the hot summer months.
What is heat stress?
Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as the air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing worn while working may lead to heat stress. It’s important that employers and employees are aware of how to work safely in heat, the factors that can lead to heat stress and how to reduce the risk of it occurring.
The effects of heat stress
The body reacts to heat by sweating and by increasing the blood flow to the skin’s surface. Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways. Symptoms include being unable to concentrate, heat rash, severe thirst, fainting, heat exhaustion, nausea and headaches. The most severe is heat stroke which can lead to loss of consciousness and even death.
If there a possibility of heat stress occurring, employers should carry out a risk assessment. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides specific advice on carrying out heat stress risk assessments and a Heat Stress Checklist is available at https://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/assets/docs/heat-stress-checklist.pdf
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment. Regulation 7 deals with temperature in indoor workplaces and states that: ‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’
The law does not state a minimum or maximum temperature, but the temperature in working environments should normally be at least 16°C or 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort. A meaningful maximum temperature cannot be given due to the high temperatures found in hot environments such as bakeries and kitchens. However, in these industries it is still possible to work safely providing appropriate controls are implemented.
Control the Temperature
The HSE advises that the risks of heat stress can be reduced by removing or reducing the sources of heat where possible. But there are means that can be used to control the temperature using engineered solutions. One of the solutions that the HSE advises is to use fans or air conditioning. It is advised that employees should only enter when the temperature is below a set level or at cooler times of the day. Periodic rest breaks and rest facilities should be provided in cooler conditions, as well as cool water to drink.
According to the HSE, there are six main control methods you can use to enhance comfort for employees:
- Replace hot air with cold
- Dehumidify the air as required
- Increase air movement by ventilation or air conditioning
- Reduce draught discomfort by directing the ventilation or air movement so that it doesn't blow directly onto the employees, for example using baffles
Separate the source of heat from the employee:
- Erect barriers that shield or insulate the work area or restrict access
- Redesign jobs to remove the employee from the area
At Sunbelt Climate Control, we offer a wide range of air conditioning units and dehumidifiers to hire or purchase. Products that help keep employees cool, productivity high and reduce the risk of heat stress, especially during the summer months. The range includes portable air conditioning units such as mini cooler units which can easily be moved from one area to another and are designed for the cooling of small to medium sized spaces. And evaporative coolers which cool air through the evaporation of water and are idea for use in non-vented environments.
There are a number of factors to take into consideration when you choose an air conditioning unit. From the cooling output you need to cool the area in question, to the best place to position it and the sound level. Our air conditioning specialists can carry out a site survey at your premises to help you decide which is the most effective and efficient cooling solution for you.