Ontario government urges workplaces to prevent heat stress

The provincial government is issuing tips to encourage em­ployers and workers to learn how to protect themselves from heat stress.


The warning came just as the province was going through a lengthy heat wave.

Heat alerts were issued across much of the province. The harm caused by too much heat can become significant in many workplaces. Workers and their employers must take steps to protect themselves from the effects of this hazard.

When heat is combined with other factors such as hard physical work, fluid loss, fatigue, or some medical condi­tions, it can lead to illness, disability, and even death. Heat stress can affect anyone, in­cluding the young and fit, and can be a concern in many workplaces.

Symptoms of heat stress can include excessive sweating, head­ache, rashes, cramping, dizzi­ness, and fainting.

Some of the ways workers can protect themselves from heat stress include:

– drink lots of fluids to replace perspiration. Try drink­ing a cup of water about every 20 minutes;

– avoid working in direct sunlight (to reduce heat gain and risk of sunburn);

– reduce the pace of work;

– increase the number of breaks and taking breaks in cool or shaded areas;

– wear light-coloured or light-weight clothing; and

– reduce the physical de­mands of work by using aides such as hoists.

Workers most at risk for heat stress include those in hot environments, such as smelters, furnaces, bakeries, and out of doors during the summer.

Prolonged exposure to heat stress can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.

The victims of heat stroke are often unable to notice the symptoms, and their survival may depend on co-workers’ ability to identify symptoms, and to seek immediate medical assistance.

Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, has warned that anyone can suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate for the extreme tem­peratures and properly cool. Those who are especially at risk include infants under one year of age, seniors 65 and older, and people with chronic medical conditions.

There are a number of things that people at home can do to prevent heat-related illness, including:

– drink plenty of water or natural fruit juices;

– wear light, loose fitting clothes;

– eat light, cool foods, and not use the oven or other hot appliances;

– stay in air conditioned rooms, either at home, a friend’s place, or public spaces such as malls, libraries, com­mu­nity or specially designated facilities; and

– regularly check on friends, family or neighbours who may be at high risk during a heat wave.

Symptoms of heat stroke include headache, dizziness, confusion or other altered men­tal state, and fainting. Skin may become hot and dry, or there may be sweating due to high body temperature. This is a medical emergency that can prove fatal if not treated

Exposure to excessive heat can also cause cramps (usually in the legs or abdomen) and exhaustion that includes heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and fainting.