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Keep Your Cool!

The recent hot weather in our province generated several calls to the BCGEU Occupational Health and Safety department. Members want to know if the employer has the responsibility to protect workers from hot temperatures both indoors and out. The short answer is “YES!”

The Workers Compensation Act Section 115 mandates that employers must ensure the health and safety of all workers working for that employer and remedy any workplace conditions that are hazardous to their health and safety.

Working in high temperatures can be hazardous to your health as your core body temperature could rise above safe levels and you could be susceptible to heat stress. When heat is combined with other stresses such as hard physical work, loss of fluids, fatigue or some pre-existing medical conditions, it may lead to heat-related illness, disability and even death.  Workers should be able to recognize the symptoms of heat stress in themselves and coworkers. Signs and symptoms of heat stress include:

  • Onset of a headache or nausea
  • Decreased efficiency, co-ordination, or alertness
  • Increased irritability
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, fainting
  • Hands, feet, and ankles swelling, usually one to two days after first exposure

The OHS Regulation Section 7.27 - 7.30 addresses heat exposure. The employer must have policies and procedures in place to address the risk of heat exposure. A heat stress assessment plan can determine the potential for hazardous heat exposure for workers. 

Factors to consider include:

  • Environmental conditions (air temperature, radiant heat, and humidity)
  • Acclimatization - whether or not workers are acclimatized to heat
  • Work demands (metabolic rate category for the work) - light, moderate, heavy, or very heavy
  • Work clothing

If a hazard is identified, the employer must implement engineering or administrative controls to reduce the exposure of workers.

Engineering control measures could include:

  • The use of mechanical assistance (hoists, lift–tables, etc.)
  • Control the heat at its source through the use of insulating and reflective barriers (e.g. insulate furnace walls)
  • Exhaust hot air and steam produced by operations
  • Reduce the temperature and humidity through air cooling and air movement
  • Providing cool, shaded work areas or air conditioning

Administrative control measures could include:

  • Increase the frequency and length of rest breaks
  • Schedule strenuous jobs to cooler times of the day
  • Provide cool drinking water near workers and caution workers to avoid direct sunlight
  • Assign additional workers or slow the pace of work
  • Make sure everyone is properly acclimatized
  • Train workers to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stress and start a “buddy system” since people are not likely to notice their own symptoms

Remember, the employer has a duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of their workers. Don’t wait for the next heat wave. Add heat stress to the agenda for your next JOHS committee meeting so you and your employer have agreed upon steps to take when the temperature rises. You have the right to work under safe and healthy conditions at all times.

Click here for more information or contact your BCGEU Occupational Health and Safety Officers at [email protected]