What is heat stress?

Supplier: Pryme Australia
21 December, 2007

Heat and fatigue related illness and injuries are on the increase in industrial work places.

What follows is a series of suggested engineering controls, administrative practices and details on personal protective equipment that combine to help employers reduce the chance of illness and injury in relation to heat in the industrial workplace. 

Heat stress is a series of conditions where the body is under stress from over heating. The human body has only very limited capacity to adjust to extremes of temperature and humidity. When these limits are exceeded heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (fainting) and heat stroke can occur. Heat stroke is the most serious of these conditions and can be fatal. As the levels of heat stress conditions rise, mental functions slow down, the ability to handle machinery is impaired and accident rates rise. The heat-affected worker can no longer be the best judge of his or her own condition. 

Changes in workplace H&S requirements relating to heat 

Heat stress management has become a major issue in many industrial workplaces. Not only is it risk to the health and well being of the employee, it can be a major reason for increased accidents and lower productivity in the workplace.

Changes in both climatic conditions and industrial work place practices have impacted to create greater heat and fatigue related problems than ever before. For a start, it is hotter today than ever before. Long-term temperature trends in North America are consistent with global trends showing warming throughout the 20th century. According to a statement released by the World Meteorological Organization on 16th December 1999, the 1990`s had the highest global mean temperatures since instrumental records began being taken in the 1860`s. 

Increasing safety standard regulatory requirements mean the amount of personal protective safety clothing and encapsulating suits required to be worn in the workplace has increased significantly. The more clothing a person wears the greater the heat load. 

Many industries have now changed work patterns to longer ten or twelve hour shifts.  Fatigue becomes an issue across the last quarter of a lengthy shift in hot or humid conditions. This is typified by planned maintenance shutdowns where a high level of work of a physically active nature must be completed within a compressed time period. 

There is also now easier access in most industrial work places to drinks with high levels of caffeine and sugar and many foods available in the industrial workplace are high in sodium. All these factors combine to put the human body under stress and depending on the nature of the work these factors can have a serious impact on both the worker and the company if not managed correctly. 

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