The office may seem like a haven for productivity and profits. But, many invisible and obvious occupational hazards lurk behind every corner. It’s easy to anticipate and ward off the apparent threat with a carefully placed sign. But, things can get dicey when fighting an invisible but powerful foe such as heat exposure.
Case in point? This summer scorcher we’ve endured. Even the unpredictable summer rains aren't enough to lower the +100℉ temperature experienced in some parts of the northern hemisphere. Sure, HVAC and Air conditioning systems shelter office workers from outside heat. But, they have to work overtime when fighting temperatures over 70℉. This begs the question, "What do we do if they fail?"
Well, it's always good to have a backup plan. After all, everything man-made has a realistic chance of failure, especially when over-taxed. Today, we’ll discuss everything you need to know to combat occupational heat exposure. So, sit back, grab an iced latte or a cold drink, and let's see how we can stay cool in the office.
What's Excessive Occupational Heat Exposure?
Excessive heat results from a combination of metabolic heat radiated in the workplace. This could be from the floor, walls, and even office equipment such as overheating computers and servers. There are tolerable levels. But, when in excess, it often leads to a heat load that adversely affects employees.
High thermal activity can be detrimental to the worker’s safety because it can lead to overheating, which culminates in health conditions, chief among them: heat stress.
The body undergoes heat stress when it fails to control its internal temperatures. Symptoms of heat exhaustion range from headache to nausea, dizziness, irritability, and high body temperatures, which can all lead to lower productivity in the workplace.
Examples of workplaces where people might suffer from heat stress include, but are not limited to, glass and rubber-manufacturing plants, mines, compressed air tunnels, bakeries, kitchens, laundries, foundries, nuclear plants, and smelting operations.
Without proper care, your regular office can suffer the same fate. Property owners and office managers must ensure that their building’s occupants are shielded from excessive heat exposure while at work. They can guarantee safety by designing spaces that address individual needs, which calls for consideration of age, dress code, and pre-existing health conditions, among other factors.
Can Excessive Heat Exposure Lead to Other Ailments?
Your body requires some sun to synthesize Vitamin D. However, excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause premature aging of the skin leading to skin cancer, otherwise known as melanoma, dehydration, eyestrain, and the suppression of the immune system.
Don’t be alarmed; those are some worst-case scenarios. Let's look at some of the more obvious ones and how to deal with them:
Heat stroke is the scariest heat-related ailment. This is when your body loses its ability to thermoregulate: and your core temperature can reach up to 106℉ in 15 minutes or less. It can cause permanent disability or prove fatal if you don't receive immediate treatment.
This results from a combination of physical exertion and heat stress. Rhabdomyolysis or rhabdo can lead to the degradation of muscle tissue. This leads to more volumes of complex proteins and salts released into the blood that are too much for the kidney to handle. This may lead to seizures, heart arrhythmia, and substantial kidney damage.
This is your body's reaction to losing water and electrolytes rapidly through excessive sweat. It mainly affects infants and the elderly.
Excessive sweating mixed with tedious activities can lead to heat cramps. This is because your body depletes all the electrolytes and fluids that keep your muscles limber. They are also a precursor to severe heat exhaustion.
Heat syncope comes with bouts of dizziness and fainting after staying in the heat for too long. Causes include a lack of acclimatization and dehydration.
What Can Organizations Do to Combat Excessive Heat Exposure in the Office?
Organizations can combat excessive heat emissions in the office by minimizing or removing heat sources where possible. The process of bringing in fresh air from outside and eliminating indoor air that may be stale, hot, and humid because of work machinery is known as ventilation.
The initial steps of this process entail conducting an internal assessment and coming up with policy around working hours, office air temperature, appropriate apparel for combating life-threatening sweating, and facts and clues about individual employee tolerance.
A ventilated workplace is essential not only because it is a legal requirement. But since, it is associated with improved health, better concentration, higher levels of satisfaction, lower rates of absence from work, better quality sleep, and reduced exposure to a wide range of air pollutants.
Organizations can prolong the employees' work life by creating a healthy environment, practically by ensuring they inhabit amply ventilated environments. Outlined in no specific order, below are some of the recommendations that organizations may find worthwhile.
1. Adjust Air Conditioning Units, or Install Them if Not Already Available
Air conditioning is the process of cooling and dehumidifying the air in a space. This can be done using a variety of different methods, but the most common type of air conditioning system uses a refrigerant to cool and remove moisture from the air. The disadvantage of this method is that it may be costly since it requires energy to operate and be maintained appropriately.
2. Provide Personal Protective Equipment
Organizations can provide specialized personal protection equipment such as air-cooled garments, cooling vests, and wetted garments ranging in simplicity, cost, and maintenance.
The limitations vary from the fact that ice vests, for instance, though cheap, usually cannot be controlled and often never stays cool long enough to be practically reliable. However, the most common limitation stems from the fact that many wearable personal cooling systems are too heavy or too cumbersome to be functional in a work environment.
Another solution is to allow employees to dress casually during the summer months. This means no more suits and ties! Instead, employees can dress in light, airy clothing that will help them stay cool.
3. Open More Windows to Improve Airflow and Ventilation
Opening windows is a standard method for controlling air temperature, moisture, air quality, and odors in occupational spaces. Letting fresh air circulate leads to a comfortable temperature at the workplace, especially during warm seasons. Upon conducting environmental assessments, organizations should determine appropriate times to open and close windows at places of work.
4. Install Adjustable Blinds on the Windows
Adjustable blinds are products attachable to a window either internally or externally to block out direct sunlight and heat. This can help to keep the office cooler and improve your comfort level throughout the day. Additionally, adjustable blinds can help to reduce glare on computer screens and provide privacy when needed while adding a little bit of aesthetics to the room
5. Provide Cold Drinking Water
Working in a hot environment causes people to lose water through sweating, and it's essential to replace that lost fluid. Drinking cold water is one of the best ways to combat excessive heat exposure and prevent dehydration. By making sure that your employees have access to cold drinking water, you can help them stay healthy and productive even in the hottest conditions.
Water coolers can be placed in strategic locations around the office, such as near desks, in break rooms, and in common areas. Employees should also be encouraged to drink water regularly throughout the day.
6. Using CO2 monitors
By monitoring the level of CO2 in the air, employers can help to identify areas of the workplace that are poorly ventilated and in need of improved ventilation.
In order to accurately measure the level of CO2 in the air, they can be placed in strategic locations around the office, away from windows, doors and air supply openings. This will help you to identify areas of the workplace that are usually occupied but poorly ventilated. By doing this, businesses can ensure that their employees are not exposed to excessive levels of heat and carbon dioxide.
7. Move Workstations Away From Direct Sunlight and Other Sources of Heat
Prevention is better than cure; ensuring that occupational spaces are pitched away from sunlight guarantees the health and safety of employees, who, on the other hand, feel minimum effects of heat exposure.
8. Job/Task Rotation
Another strategy employers can use to safeguard an individual’s health is task rotation. Alternating duties is essential as it provides the employee the much-needed rest and readjustment time. It is important to postpone or reschedule tasks to cooler parts of the day, such as early mornings or late afternoons and relocate work to cooler areas.
Other than maintaining a balanced environment for the worker, other benefits of job rotation include improved employee knowledge of company operations, reduced boredom among employees, reduced stress on employees physically, increased productivity, and identified employee interests and skills in new areas.
9. Providing Training
Informing workers, especially new and young employees, about the risks of heat stress associated with their work, symptoms to look out for, safe working practices, and emergency procedures. Training tailored to work site conditions also provides guidelines for responding to the signs of possible heat-related illnesses.
Supervisors can also be trained to monitor weather reports, respond to hot weather advisories, and encourage adequate fluid intake and rest breaks.
However inconvenient heat can be at a workplace, your organization can control excessive heat in occupational spaces by applying these tips. For an occupational area to serve its intended aim, property owners, employers, and supervisors ought to put in place measures that favor production and equally consider the employee's well-being. For best results, organizations should design internal and permanent policies for responding to the extreme exposure to heat at work.