June 21, 2017
It’s just a matter of time before the cold, rainy spring turns into a blistering hot summer. In fact, a recent study has found [1] the number of extremely hot days has been increasing globally over the past 15 years.

These heat waves may last only a week or two, but in farming this heat can be very hard to get away from. Workers can suffer debilitating effects and even death. A few simple steps taken now can keep your people thriving and productive even in the hottest weather.

“Based on the internal responsibility system, everyone has a role to play,” says WSPS occupational hygienist Warren Clements. “Employers, supervisors and workers all can make a difference in their workplaces.”

Here is a 10-step plan of action.

Steps for employers:

  1. Put a policy and procedures in place, based on a risk assessment. Ask questions, such as have workers been affected by heat in the past? Is work done in direct sunlight? Are there heat producing processes or equipment in the workplace? How hot is it in the hay mow? This will help you get an idea of the magnitude of the issue. If heat stress may be a hazard, consider conducting heat stress measurements and developing a control plan. Include engineering controls, such as insulating hot surfaces.
  2. Train all employees during orientation on the policy and procedures. Include heat stress symptoms, how to prevent it, and what to do if someone starts showing symptoms. Heat stress training is particularly critical for young and new workers, as well as all manual workers. Research conducted by the Institute for Work & Health shows that heat strokes, sunstrokes and other heat illnesses disproportionately affect those on the job less than two months. [2] Use our Agriculture Safety Topic on heat stress to learn how to identify symptoms of heat stroke and exhaustion and related emergency procedures. http://www.wsps.ca/WSPS/media/Site/Resources/Downloads/Agricultural-Safety-Topic-Heat-Stress.pdf?ext=.pdf

Steps for workers:

  1. Acclimatize workers to hot conditions, and watch out for de-acclimatization. Workers can lose their tolerance in only four days.

  2. Schedule work in the hottest locations for cooler times of day. Build cool-down breaks into work schedules. Adjust the frequency and duration of breaks as needed. “Taking a break means going to a cooler work area or providing workers with periodic rest breaks and rest facilities in cooler conditions,” says Warren. An example would be having lunch or a break in a shady area. 

  3. Get to know your workplace and your workers. “Are there certain jobs at elevated risk? Is anybody working outside today? Keep your eyes and ears open: ‘Is so-and-so looking a little different from how he normally looks? A little more flushed? Sitting down more?’”

  4. Ensure ready access to cool water in convenient, visible locations. Workers need to replenish their fluids if they are becoming dehydrated.

  5. Supply protective equipment and clothing as needed, such as water-dampened bandanas or other breathable, cooling clothing options, including a broad rimmed hat.

  6. Monitor weather forecasts. “If it's Tuesday and you know superhot weather is coming on Thursday, ask yourself, ‘Who will be working then? What will they be doing? Who should I watch out for?’”

  7. Be extra vigilant in extreme conditions. “Check on workers frequently. If you can't do this, then assign a temporary pair of eyes to do it for you.”

Steps for supervisors:

  1. Watch out for each other and speak up. “People suffering from heat stress don’t always recognize their own symptoms. If anyone’s behaviour is ‘more than usual’ — more sweating, more flushed, hyperventilating — it could be a sign of heat stress.” Other signs could include rashes, muscle cramping, dizziness, fainting, and headaches.

Heat stress resources can help
Everything you need to create a heat stress plan is available on the WSPS heat stress resource page.
  • Humidex-based heat response plan
  • Heat stress poster
  • Heat stress awareness sessions conducted on site by WSPS safety experts
  • More articles on heat stress

1. “No pause in the increase of hot temperature extremes,” Nature Climate Change, 4, 161-163 (2014), published online on February 26, 2014.
2. The more inexperienced workers are, the study found, the more likely they'll need time off to recover from heat stroke, sun stroke, fainting and other forms of heat illnesses. Read more: Young men in manual occupations are most vulnerable to extreme heat http://www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/73/the-young-and-new-on-job-most-affected-by-heat-stress-study.