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Especially after a long spring spent indoors, the summer heat has come for many as a welcome relief. The sunshine makes it easier to engage in safe and physically distanced recreational activities, like hitting the patio, tennis court, or beach.
It also means that safe working conditions can be trickier -- things like maintaining appropriate space between employees, or navigating crowded and hot spaces while wearing a face mask. That’s why working safely during COVID-19 also means not losing sight of regular seasonal safety measures.
No matter what industry you’re in, and whether you’re working inside or out, working safely in the heat should be a top priority. Especially with facemasks now required in all indoor spaces, it is critical to ensure employers are managing heat in the workplace safely.
Some of the risks of working during the summer include heat stress, sun exposure, and dehydration.
The Department of Labour and Advanced Education lists heat stress as a risk when a “worker's core body temperature exceed[s] 38°C (100°F)”. This can happen when heat builds in the body internally (via muscle use) or externally (in the environment). For this reason, workers in physically demanding industries such as agriculture, construction, or food and beverage may be at an increased risk. Risk also increases for those with pre-existing health conditions.
Further, many do not know that the body temperature rising even a few degrees can effect mental functioning. Signs of heat stress include dizziness, nausea, weakness and confusion – that’s why it’s also important to check in frequently with coworkers for any irregular behaviour.
Sun exposure is caused by over-exposure to UV rays and can lead to skin cancer, sunburn, cataracts and more. Outdoor workers are up to 3.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer than indoor workers.
Sunsafetyatwork.ca is a great resource for Canadian employers to learn more about sun safety, and develop your own sun safety plan. The CDC also offers some tips to get started, like:
Dehydration can occur when you lose more fluid than you intake. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety lists the following as signs of dehydration:
Beyond managing heat in the workplace, employers can mitigate the risk of dehydration by making sure there is always adequate fresh water available, and encouraging a buddy system to let workers monitor each other for signs and symptoms.
It’s an employer’s duty to take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of every person in the workplace. It’s also every employee’s responsibility to watch out for their coworkers, and make sure safety precautions are being followed internally.
Similarly, even when you’re not working, be courteous and appreciative of the workers who help make our summer recreation possible. Slower wait-times, or different ways of service, are part of what we can all expect to make sure we’re putting workers’ health first.
Let’s all do our part to celebrate the summer heat, safely.