Heat Stress: We Are all Susceptible!

Employee sweating in a warm office
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

How to ensure safety in the extreme heat.

May 5, 2016 started out like any other school day in Winnipeg, but something was different, very different, and unusual; actually it was the first time in 90 years that it happened.

What was this unusual activity that occurred on that fateful May 5? It was the temperature! It soared to 34 degrees Celsius in parts of Manitoba. According to the Winnipeg Free Press:

“The province slapped restrictions on activities in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park and the Spruce Woods Provincial Forest …. all back country travel and access to remote cottage areas must be approved by a travel permit issued at the discretion of local conservation officers.”

The provincial government was concerned about high temperatures on that day, so much so that they ordered restrictions on certain activities in provincial parks, however, many of these restrictions were to reduce the risk of forests fires, it certainly was not to warn everyday citizens, or workers about possible risk of death.

To read the complete article click here.

Perhaps not enough thought was put into the possible deadly effects of heat stress, because on that day a 40 year old high school teacher on a field trip to Spruce Woods Provincial Park fainted and died. Although the root cause of her death is still under investigation at the time of this writing, there are reasons to believe that heat stress may have played part in this workplace fatality.

In our workplaces there is a very poor understanding of the possible health effects of extreme temperatures in this case heat. Most workplace H&S legislation in Canada does not specifically address extreme temperatures, but all have a general duty clause where employers must take every reasonable precaution to prevent illness, injury or death of its employees.

In all cases where workers are exposed to extreme temperatures there is a reasonable obligation of employers to conduct a risk assessment to measure the potential health risk. In most cases with respect to heat stress, employers fail to take a proactive position. A heat stress policy and plan is required to make workers aware of the dangers and the control measure of heat stress.

Click here to download WorkSafe Guide to Preventing Heat Stress.

It would be beneficial if workers and employers in Canada took the effects of heat stress seriously and have a heat stress control plan in place in every work setting.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Review your provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, does it set out maximum and minimum temperatures limits. If yes what are they?  If no, why not?
  2. Develop a heat stress policy, including what measures and tools you are recommending to measure heat stress, remember to include temperature and humidity.
  3. Research what is a work/rest schedule for heat stress, and comment on why employers may be reluctant to implement one in the workplace.