Local 793 operators should be on the lookout for signs of heat-related illnesses during periods of especially hot weather.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety warns that heat-related illnesses can strike with little warning. Construction workers are especially susceptible because they’re often exposed to direct sunlight and humidity.

Heat stress and exhaustion can cause myriad problems from rashes and cramps to exhaustion and full-blown heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stress can include sunburn, fainting, heavy sweating, headaches and dizzy spells.

It’s important, then, for operators as well as employers to prepare ahead of time, recognize symptoms of heat stress and know how to treat it when problems arise.

Heat stress occurs when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature. The body’s internal thermostat maintains a constant inner temperature by pumping more blood to the skin and by increasing sweat production. But in very hot environments the body temperature can rise, resulting in heat stress. When the body can no longer cope, a number of illnesses can occur, including:

  • Heat Rash: This is characterized by tiny red spots on the skin that can cause a prickling sensation. It’s a result of inflammation when the ducts of sweat glands become plugged.
  • Heat Cramps: These are sharp pains in the muscles caused by an imbalance resulting from failure to replace salt lost with sweat.
  • Heat Exhaustion: This is caused by loss of body water and salt through excessive sweating. Symptoms include weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, intense thirst, headaches, vomiting, muscle cramps and diarrhea.
  • Heat Stroke: This condition requires immediate medical attention and is characterized by an elevated body temperature. Signs of heat stroke include dry, hot skin, a high body temperature and complete or partial loss of consciousness.

Prolonged exposure to heat can cause other problems such as sleep disturbances and susceptibility to minor injuries and sicknesses.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour recommends that workers in a hot environment should try to drink a cup of water every 20 minutes and that workers also:

  • avoid working in direct sunlight
  • reduce the pace of work
  • take breaks in a cool or shaded area
  • schedule heavy work for cooler periods
  • wear light-coloured clothing
  • reduce the physical demands of work

Employers have a duty under clause 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. This includes developing policies and procedures to protect workers in environments that are hot because of hot processes and/or weather.

Any Local 793 operators with concerns about employers not taking appropriate steps to help workers avoid heat stroke and exhaustion should contact their business rep.

Click here for more information about heat exhaustion and heat stroke from the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association.

Click here for more information from the Ontario government.