Prevention of thermal stress


The existence of heat in the work environment is often a source of discomfort and poor performance at work and, on occasion, health risks.

The disorders derived from extreme temperatures, which cause thermal stress, are a consequence of the lack of prevention at work and, therefore, deserves to be considered an and, therefore, deserves to be considered an

Thermal stress is the feeling of discomfort that is experienced when the permanence in a certain environment requires excessive efforts to the mechanisms available to the organism to maintain the internal temperature, while the exchange of water and other substances of the body is carried out.

Thermal stress in outdoor work

The increase in temperatures is the cause of what is known as "thermal stress" and affects everyone who does their work outdoors: agriculture, livestock, construction ...

There are risk factors in heat stress due to heat, but there are also factors related to the type of work. In many jobs, the difficulty of supplying workers with fresh water, hard physical work, few recovery breaks, the use of heavy protective equipment with poor evaporation of sweat, etc. increase the risk.


Effects of thermal overload

The most serious and well-known effect of thermal stress is what we know as "heat stroke": the person suffers an uncontrolled elevation of body temperature, which can cause from an injury to the tissues, a dysfunction of the central nervous system and a failure in the thermal regulation carried out by the body.

When heat stroke occurs, the skin heats up, dries out and stops sweating. Seizures may occur, increase breathing and heart rate. We must not lose sight of the fact that working under conditions of thermal stress, due to the seriousness of its possible consequences, can involve exposure to serious or imminent risk.

The body temperature can exceed 40ºC and that is when you can lose consciousness. In that case, medical assistance is necessary, sometimes in extreme cases hospitalization, to regulate that the consequences of heat stroke do not harm the body.

A factor that forces to increase the awareness of this risk for outdoor workers is the fact that while for indoor environments there are regulations that indicate when it is necessary to evaluate the risk and certain guidance values (RD486/97 by which the minimum requirements of safety and health in the workplace are established), for outdoor work there are no clear guidelines, beyond general recommendations.

Fundamental tips to avoid thermal stress

  • Perform a specific medical examination of workers at the risk of heat stroke.
  • The worker should hydrate as much as possible:
    • drink a lot of fluids and
    • avoid copious meals; to avoid heavy digestions.
      It is recommended to provide drinking water sources close to the workplaces or to supply water bottles on demand.
  • Try to avoid – or reduce – work in the hotter hours of the day; being able to start working earlier to finish the day at noon (maximum temperatures).
  • Enable a shaded area / or with air conditioning, so that the worker can shelter to prevent the body temperature from rising a lot.
  • Wear broad and light clothing, covering legs and arms, light colors that absorb sweat and are permeable to air and steam.
  • Protect the head with a helmet, cap or hat, depending on the work done. Use creams of high protection against the sun.
  • Know the first aid (training in Occupational Risk Prevention) that must be applied to a person exposed to heat stroke:
    • Place the injured person in a cool, airy place;
    • Refresh the skin, undressing the person and applying wet towels on the head and rest of the body;
    • Failure to control seizures to avoid muscle or joint injury;
    • If you are conscious, give cold water to drink;
    • If he is unconscious, place him in a lying position on the side of his body, with his head slightly tilted, the lower arm back, extended, the upper arm flexed forward and up, and the legs flexed, more the upper than the lower and, finally, transfer the patient to a hospital.

The role of prevention delegates

Companies whose activities may involve exposing workers to thermal stress during their work outdoors must have prepared, with due anticipation, an action plan against this risk, integrated into their prevention plan, prepared with the participation of prevention delegates.

Delegates should be involved in the entire process of drawing up the plan and also in monitoring the process of its implementation and verifying results.

Delegates should ensure that all workers are trained to identify and express themselves in hazardous work situations, as well as demand the implementation of risk reduction measures.

In such cases, prevention delegates must demand urgent action to protect human health.

For more information: GUIDE – Prevention plan for the risk of thermal stress in outdoor work

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