Watch out for heat stress at work and play

July 30, 2014

Photo credit: Dan Gutwein on Flickr

Photo credit: Dan Gutwein on Flickr

It’s a warning that bears repeating.

The summer sun – glorious as it is – can make us very sick if we are not prepared for working under it. Many people have felt it, especially those who work in construction, agriculture, forestry, and other outdoor operations.

I talked to a roofer who once had to lie down in the shade when he started feeling weak, tired, and dizzy. What he experienced are some of the early symptoms of heat stress:

* Shallow, quickened breathing
* A weak, fast pulse
* Cool, pale, clammy skin

The worker said his crew started work at 7 a.m. so they could take a two-hour lunch break at the hottest time of day. They also tried to get off the roof and into the shade regularly – but that one time, the heat got the better of him. Thankfully he noticed the symptoms quickly and took the right steps to recovery.

What to do in case of heat stress

Preventing Heat Stress At Work, from WorkSafeBC, explains exactly what to do – so please read it for a full explanation.

Basically, help the person move to a cooler spot, lie down, and loosen clothing. Then contact first aid; while you wait, sponge the person with water and offer a rehydrating sports drink. Chances are, if you’re quick enough, the symptoms will be gone in about 30 minutes.

But without early treatment, a person can develop heat stroke, which is very serious – even fatal. So please heed this warning and share it with others if they don’t seem to be watching out for themselves.

Links to more information on heat stress prevention

OSHA’s Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers offers this advice to “prevent heat related illness and fatalities.”

* Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.
* Rest in the shade to cool down.
* Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
* Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
* Keep an eye on fellow workers.
* “Easy does it” on your first days of work in the heat. You need to get used to it.

Heat Stress and Your Health from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Heat-related illness from HealthLink BC

Preventing Heat Stress at Work from ACTSafe, for BC’s entertainment industry

Heat Stress in Agriculture from BC’s Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association (FARSHA)

Temperature Extremes from FIOSA-MIOSA, BC’s Health & Safety Association for Manufacturers and Food Processors

Heat exhaustion incident report from BC’s Forest Safety Council – describes a close call

How do you know your respirator fits?

July 23, 2014

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New respirator purchased for worker after fit test

You might think your respirator fits, but you could be wrong.

Recently I talked with a worker in a film production studio where props and artwork are created. He and his coworkers recently took part in an on-site respirator fit test from Actsafe, BC’s safety association for entertainment industries.

“In my case, the mask was much too small and didn’t even go below my chin,” said the worker, describing what he learned. “I upsized to one that fit properly. The respirator face piece must fit over the nose and under the chin, and should make a seal that doesn’t allow air in or out.”

He needs protection against a number of airborne contaminants that could be found in the shop, depending on what projects people are working on.

“We have many different airborne hazards including particulate swarf (sawdust, metal/plastic filings, plaster dust, fibreglass shavings, etc), and various chemical fumes (fibreglass resins, polyfoam compounds containing ammonia, adhesives, paints, and solvents),” he said. “Flammable and volatile substances are stored in fireproof cabinets.”

Respirators are a second line of defence after other engineered controls.

“We have three rooms equipped with elaborate air extraction systems which filter/exhaust fumes. These are ceiling/wall vent duct systems with large-volume fan extractors and replaceable filters,” the worker said.

“We have a paint room (paints, solvents, adhesives); a foam room (polyfoam and foam-latex moldmaking); and a hot room (fibreglass resins/dust, plaster dust, combustion fumes, solvents, adhesives). Workers are required to turn on the ventilation system when working in any of these areas. The main shop area also has a large rooftop air intake vent and ceiling fans throughout to provide fresh air and mitigate dust/fumes in the air.”

Ready for use

All shop workers are supplied with their own personal – fitted and labelled – respirators.

“When not in use, they’re stored in sealed plastic bags. We have a supply of new filter cartridges that workers replace regularly according to manufacturer guidelines,” he said.

“Asthma and lung problems can be brought on by years of repeated low-level exposure to many of the toxins involved. Workers can suffer long-term serious damage to lungs if proper precautions are not taken.”

For more information, read Breathe Safer: How to Use a Respirator Effectively and Start a Respirator Program.

Watch out for heat stress at work and play

Chances are, if you’re quick enough, symptoms can be gone in about 30 minutes. But without early treatment, a person can develop heat stroke that could be fatal.

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