With much of the cold weather giving way to warmer temperatures, most of us are looking forward to the summer season that’s just around the corner. But how do you ensure your staff remain cool and comfortable in hotter working conditions?
Heat stress is the term often associated with working in hot conditions such as kitchens, bakeries and some manufacturing plants, but it can also apply to other places such as offices and outdoor working environments. Heat can affect people differently, but symptoms include a lack of concentration, headaches, feeling sick, dizziness, fainting, heat rash and an increase in stress. Heat stroke, where the body becomes dangerously overheated and can lead to unconsciousness if not detected early, is also a potential risk. Certain types of clothing like some uniforms or protective clothing could exacerbate the problem because a worker is more restricted in how they’re able to keep cool in climbing temperatures.
It’s important to speak to employees to find out how the temperature is affecting them and whether they are suffering any effects from the heat. You should undertake a risk assessment which includes ascertaining who is most vulnerable, for example those with conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems or pregnancy, and make sure that you monitor their health. You should also consider whether workers are acclimatising to the temperature and ensure they are fit to work. The rate someone works at, such as in the case of manual labouring, is also an important factor as this affects how much heat is generated by their body and their risk of heat stress.
The following ways can reduce heat in the workplace, but it largely depends on the type of working environment:
- Fans and air conditioning – this is a common measure taken so it’s a good idea to plan ahead and purchase sufficient fans in advance or investigate hiring them for the summer period
- Shades or other barriers to restrict direct heat from the sun
- Have cold water easily available
- Increase breaks so that staff can have time to cool down and replace the lost fluid caused by sweating
- Depending on the work environment aim to relax the dress code so that people can wear clothing appropriate for the temperature
- Train staff to know the effects of heat stress so that they can identify symptoms in themselves and co-workers and know what to do to relieve the effects and act in an emergency.
Let us know how your workplace copes in high temperatures and if you’ve introduced any novel methods.
Richard Evens, Commercial Training Director, St John Ambulance
Richard is Commercial Marketing Director at St John Ambulance, the nation's leading first aid organisation and market leader in workplace first aid training. Responsible for training programmes and educational standards, Richard has been involved in consultation with the HSE since the early development of new guidance for the content and structure of workplace first aid training. He has liaised widely with the HSE and other stakeholders to apply the collective expertise in first aid to the new guidance, becoming a board member of the First Aid at Work Council which was created during this process.
Before joining the charity sector 10 years ago in a retail development role for Oxfam, Richard worked in marketing and logistical roles with Shell and Total Oil. He lives in north west London spending time with his family, trying to keep up with two energetic young children.