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Are your health policies up to rising heat warnings?

Like all health and safety at work, taking care in hot weather is a partnership between employers and employees. It’s up to employers to plan and manage work to avoid or reduce heat risks, but employees play a big part in protecting themselves too. By acting responsibly and paying attention to how others are coping with the heat, illnesses and injuries can be prevented

Temperatures are soaring this week, with expected highs of 30°C (86°F) across the UK. The Met Office has issued a yellow heat health alert for this week, but what does that mean for health and safety at work?

Gavin Scarr-Hall, Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula, says, “A ‘yellow’ heat health alert applies mainly to those who are most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses – older people aged over 65, or people with underlying health conditions, for example. Care homes in particular need to prepare and take precautions for residents.

“Employers should ensure social care staff are trained on hot weather guidance and reorganise any daytime activities for cooler times such as early morning or the evening.

“Dehydration is a significant risk for elderly people. Staff should ensure residents are drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day and watch for signs of dehydration such as dizziness, light-headedness and taking fewer bathroom breaks.

“Outdoor workers are also at a higher risk from heat-related illnesses. It might be tempting to work longer and harder in the blazing sun, but employers need to be aware that hotter weather poses serious risks.

“When you work outdoors in hot weather:

  • Your body is working harder to keep you cool, using more energy
  • Dehydration sets in quickly
  • Fatigue can easily impair judgment and reduce your alertness to other risks
  • You’re more exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, putting you at risk of sunburn, eye damage, or skin cancer.

“Heat stress and heat stroke are serious and immediate risks for outdoor workers in a heatwave. The human body should normally have a body temperature of 37°C. Heat stroke occurs when that temperature rises above 40°C, due to prolonged heat exposure. It can be fatal if not treated immediately by a medical professional. Look for signs like weariness, irritability, and headaches.

“You can manage these risks simply and cheaply, by monitoring the amount of time workers spend in direct sunlight. If you can, avoid physically demanding work during the hotter periods of the day, typically 11am to 3pm.

“If that isn’t practicable, switch up tasks between teams so no-one spends too long in the sun. Schedule in regular breaks and offer a shady area where workers can cool down.

“Beat dehydration and fatigue by having plenty of water on hand, and recommend workers bring snacks to top up their energy levels. Hats are very effective at keeping workers cool and protecting their scalp, neck and ears from sunburn.

“Recommend workers apply sunscreen before they start an outdoor shift and avoid exposing too much skin. Sunburn ages and damages your skin very easily, and it can increase the risk of skin cancer. If you work outdoors for extended periods, lightweight and long-sleeved shirts and trousers will keep you cooler and protect you from sunburn.

“Offices and other work environments can easily overheat in high temperatures, so whilst risk assessments for these workplaces needn’t be as in-depth, there are still a number of ways employers can ensure workers are comfortable in hot weather:

  • Provide desk, pedestal or ceiling fans
  • Install air-cooling or air-conditioning and adequate ventilation
  • Shade employees using blinds or reflective film on windows
  • Position workstations away from direct sunlight or sources of heat
  • Insulate hot pipes or plant equipment
  • Provide cold water dispensers for hydration

“Like all health and safety at work, taking care in hot weather is a partnership between employers and employees. It’s up to employers to plan and manage work to avoid or reduce heat risks, but employees play a big part in protecting themselves too. By acting responsibly and paying attention to how others are coping with the heat, illnesses and injuries can be prevented.”

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