AFTER a slow start to the summer weather, B.C. is now experiencing higher temperatures throughout the province. As temperatures rise, employers need to be aware of the risks to their workers — both indoor and outdoor — and implement measures to keep their workplaces safe, says WorkSafeBC.
Last year, B.C. was impacted by a record-setting heat dome with extreme temperatures throughout the province. As a result, WorkSafeBC accepted 115 claims from workers related to heat stress in 2021, a 180-per-cent increase over the average 41 claims in the previous three years.
“We are hoping that the serious heat wave in 2021 has raised awareness about the dangers of working in high temperatures,” says Suzana Prpic, Senior Manager of Prevention Field Services at WorkSafeBC. “Whether you are working outdoors on a farm or construction site, or indoors in a restaurant kitchen, or in a factory—heat stress can cause serious injuries and even death.”
Prpic adds that indoor heat stress is an area of increasing concern. For example, in 2021, over one-third (35 per cent) 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 says.
Risk assessments are required
To prevent heat-stress injuries, WorkSafeBC requires employers to conduct heat stress assessments. As appropriate, employers must have a heat stress mitigation plan that provides education and training in recognizing the symptoms of heat-related injuries.
If not recognized and treated early, heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excess sweating, dizziness, fainting and muscle cramps. Symptoms of heat stroke include cessation of sweating, an increased breathing rate, confusion, seizures and even cardiac arrest.
WorkSafeBC encourages employers to engage their workers early in the process so they understand the risks, and participate in the assessment and control of those risks.
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: Worker
- 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 a.m. and after 3 p.m.
- Know your personal risk factors, such as medications and any pre-existing conditions.
- Check the signs and symptoms for yourself and co-workers.
- Of the 115 accepted claims for heat stress in 2021, 74 were for outdoor workers, and 41 for indoor workers.
- In the previous three years (2018-2020), WorkSafeBC had a total of 122 accepted claims related to heat stress, or an average of 41 per year.