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5 min read

Heat Stroke: Protect Your Workers Against Seasonal Hazards

on-site contractor
on-site contractor
Renovation tips

5 min read

Heat Stroke: Protect Your Workers Against Seasonal Hazards

Renovation tipsHeat Stroke: Protect Your Workers Against Seasonal Hazards

Warm summer temperatures come as a major hurdle for all construction workers. With increasingly warm days, and humidity added into the mix, the risks associated with heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, become growing concerns for employers and workers. This potentially fatal hazard mandates awareness and appropriate preventative measures to ensure the safety and well-being of construction workers. 

Understanding Heat Stroke: What's the Cause?

sick contractor with doctor 

Heat stroke is a medical emergency resulting from prolonged exposure to high temperatures, coupled with severe dehydration. It’s brought on by the body's inability to regulate its internal temperature, leading to dangerous overheating. 

What are the signs and symptoms of heat stroke?

The main symptoms of heat stroke are as follows:

  • High body temperature, typically over 40°C (can exceed standard thermometer calibration)

  • Warm, flush, or dry skin, lack of sweat

  • Throbbing headache

  • Vertigo, dizziness, weakness

  • Altered or confused state of mind, change in behaviour

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Racing heart rate and rapid breathing

  • Muscle cramps

  • Coma, seizures

What are the complications brought on by heat stroke?

Heat stroke can have dire consequences, possibly even fatal ones, if not treated quickly. Possible complications include the following:

  • Brain damage: Hyperthermia can cause brain cell damage, resulting in permanent brain lesions.

  • Kidney failure: Severe dehydration can lead to acute kidney failure.

  • Heart failure: Heat stroke can trigger heart arrhythmias, heart failure, and possible cardiac arrest. 

  • Death: Worst case scenario, heat stroke can be fatal if proper emergency care isn't administered in a timely manner.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency, one that requires the body temperature to be cooled immediately, coupled with emergency medical care. Without prompt treatment, it can lead to vital organ failure, such as brain, heart, or kidney damage, possibly resulting in death. 

How long does it take to recover from heat stroke?

It's common for a person with heatstroke to stay in the hospital for one or more days to identify any complications brought on by the condition. Full recovery from it and its effects on the body's organs may take anywhere from two months to a year.

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke: What Is the Difference?

Albeit often confused, there is a difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here are the main differences:

Heat Exhaustion

  • Heat exhaustion occurs after prolonged sun and heat exposure.

  • It can lead to sunburns (burns to the skin), eye damage, and heat stroke.

  • Symptoms include fatigue, headache, dry mouth, nausea, and rapid heart rate.

Heat Stroke/Sun Stroke

  • Heat stroke is a severe type of hyperthermia caused by the body’s inability to regulate its internal temperature.

  • It can be triggered by excessive sun exposure (heat exhaustion) or by extreme heat, regardless of the sun.

  • Symptoms are much more severe: very high body temperature (+40°C), confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness, muscle cramps, and cardiovascular problems.

In a nutshell, heat exhaustion refers to the effects of prolonged sun exposure, whereas heat stroke is a medical emergency characterized by hyperthermia. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke if the body’s thermoregulation is compromised.

Heat Stroke Prevention in Construction

on-site contractor

To protect construction workers against heat stroke, employers and supervisors must implement effective preventative measures. Here are some key strategies:

1. Extreme heat awareness and training

Raising awareness amongst workers about heat-related risks and providing them with proper training regarding symptoms and preventative measures. Said training must be completed before the beginning of summer and regularly reiterated throughout the season. 

2. Task Scheduling and Team Rotation

Schedule the most physically demanding tasks during cooler periods of the day and plan on rotating teams frequently to limit prolonged heat exposure. Encourage workers to take regular breaks in cool areas or out of the sunlight. 

  • Limit or postpone any strenuous activity during the hottest period of the day (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

3. Proper hydratation

Have enough fresh and cold water available on-site and encourage workers to drink plenty of fluids regularly, even if they aren’t necessarily thirsty. Avoid sugary or alcoholic drinks as they're more likely to dehydrate rather than hydrate. 

  • Drink 1 glass of water for every 20 minutes of sun-exposed activity.

4. Set up a cool area, out of the sunlight

Set up cool and shaded areas on-site where workers can put their feet up and cool down during their breaks. Portable cooling systems or fans can also be used to improve thermal comfort.

5. Monitor workers’ health

Have designated supervisors on-site trained to look out for heat-related illnesses in workers and intervene promptly when needed. Encourage workers to report all unusual symptoms and take additional breaks if need be. 

6. Weather-appropriate work attire

Have lightweight, breathable, and light-coloured workwear to help release body heat. Avoid baggy clothing and synthetic fabrics as such attire traps both heat and humidity.  

  • Keep your head covered when working outside. Wearing a brimmed hat is a good idea.

7. Progressive acclimation

After a cooler period, the body needs at least 5 days to get used to the heat. Allow workers to acclimate gradually to the hot weather by steadily increasing exposure time and intensity at the beginning of the summer. 

Other Precautionary Measures

  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure

  • Work in teams and monitor your co-workers to spot warning signs

  • Be extra vigilant in case of health problems or use of medication

Proper hydration, regular breaks in a cool and shaded area, and progressive acclamation are key to preventing a potentially fatal heat stroke during a heat wave. 

How to Treat It: Emergency First Aid for Heat Stroke

on-site contractor

Call Emergency Medical Services

Heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate first aid. Call emergency medical services (911) as soon as symptoms are detected.

Cool the Body Down Quickly

  • Move the person to a shaded or cool area

  • Remove any unnecessary layers of clothing

  • Apply ice packs to the person’s body, focusing on the head, neck, armpit, and groin area.

  • Fan the person to help lower body temperature

Hydrate

Have the person drink cool water even if they’re not thirsty as their perception may be distorted. Avoid iced drinks, which may cause thermal shock. Act fast to cool the body down as heat stroke left untreated could result in a brain injury or death.

Team Work and Shared Responsibility 

Heat stroke prevention on construction worksites calls for a close partnership between employers, supervisors, workers, and all relevant authorities. Employers are responsible for implementing adequate preventative measures and reporting all heat-related illnesses. 

Government organizations, such as the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité (CNESST) or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), also play a crucial part in establishing regulations and guidelines to protect workers’ health and safety. Regular construction worksite inspections can be beneficial to ensure all preventative measures are implemented accordingly. 


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Last modified 2024-06-19

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