3 Effective Strategies To Avoid Heat Stress

3 Effective Strategies To Avoid Heat Stress

Proper hydration products and PPE keep workers cool, relaxed and heat stress-free.

With rising temperatures comes an increased risk of heat-related illnesses. These conditions arise when the body struggles to maintain its internal temperature due to excessive heat exposure, leading to potentially severe consequences such as confusion, seizures, unconsciousness, organ damage or even death. Therefore, recognizing symptoms and implementing preventative measures is crucial, especially in high-risk work environments.

In this story, we explore three effective strategies you can take to keep workers cool, comfortable and heat stress free while working in high heat conditions.

1. Choose A Superior Hydration Solution

Managing hydration and heat stress goes beyond merely consuming electrolytes. Look for advanced formulas that contain an optimal mix of electrolytes, branch-chain amino acids, B and C vitamins and low-GI carbohydrates for sustained energy release without the sugar spike. You may ask, what are these ingredients, and why do they matter for employees subjected to the threat of extreme heat?

Amino Acids. Branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) play a crucial role in protein synthesis, muscle building and recovery. BCAAs constitute over one-third of essential amino acids. Research indicates that adding amino acids to carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks boosts fluid retention by 15% compared to carbohydrate-electrolyte-only beverages and 40% more than water alone.

It is vital to maintain sufficient BCAA levels during extended shifts or demanding work to prevent excessive serotonin accumulation in the brain, which can cause drowsiness, impaired judgment and increased risk of lost time incidents (LTIs).

Electrolytes. Electrolytes are vital minerals that play a crucial role in regulating water movement within the body and maintaining the acid-base balance necessary for cellular activities. Key electrolytes include potassium, calcium, sodium, chloride and magnesium.

These electrolytes are essential for transmitting electrical signals from the brain to nerves, activating muscles for mechanical functions and supporting most bodily processes, particularly neuromuscular activities. To prevent heat illness, the body must replace lost fluids and electrolytes to rehydrate and restore efficient functioning.

Vitamins. Vitamins play a vital role in maintaining optimal health. B vitamins support appetite, good vision, healthy skin, a well-functioning nervous system and red blood cell formation. They also function as coenzymes, assisting the body in obtaining energy from food and drinks.

2. Understand PPE Specific Cooling Technologies 

PPE is an excellent way to provide workers with a preventative solution to heat stress while working in hot indoor or outdoor conditions. As a safety professional, choosing the right heat stress preventative PPE solution can be difficult without fully understanding which PPE cooling technology does what. 

Phase Change Cooling Technology uses phase change cooling packs that are filled with water, frozen and packed inside of a moisture wicking vest to be worn against a base layer garment. The frozen packs provide a cooling sensation to the worker with the ultimate goal of regulating a worker’s body temperature on the job. It’s important that these phase change wearables are worn underneath any type of hi-visibility clothing to keep workers visible on the job.

Evaporative Cooling Technology comes in the form of neck wraps, bandanas, towels, arm sleeves and more. These products feature specialty cooling fibers that should be drenched in cool or cold water, snapped and applied directly against the skin to allow the water to slowly evaporate from the wearable. The gradual evaporation of water provides workers with a cooling sensation. These products work great as long as water is accessible and workers are ok with getting a little wet. 

Absorptive Technology come in the form of hard hat liners, sweat bands, balaclavas and more. These products absorb sweat in critical areas like near the eyes where sweat can affect vision, comfort and productivity. These products are great for workers that may not be exposed to a ton of sunlight, but still sweat and are constantly removing their PPE to remove sweat from their forehead, brow or other areas. 

Sun Protection Technology come in hard hat shades, neck shades and more and are designed to block the suns harmful rays which can cause heat stress, other forms of discomfort and negative long-term effects to a workers skin health. Most of these products are compatible with hard hats being that the neck and ears are primarily always exposed while working outdoors.

An important thing to keep in mind when considering these technologies is how long these products take to activate and provide coolness to the wearer; specifically for phase change cooling and evaporative cooling solutions. To help identify this, PPE manufacturers will publish the “activation time” on spec sheets and packaging for easy identification. 

3. Identify the Right Workwear Features

Like all PPE, there have been major advancements made in workwear garments to not only protect workers from occupational risks, but also the environmental hazards associated with the job. These advancements have resulted in features built into workwear garments that keep workers cool, comfortable and productive in high temperature environments. 

Ventilation Breathability. Choosing workwear options with enhanced ventilation will allow fresh air to enter the garment and excess body heat to escape high build up areas like the torso, underarms and back. Additionally, silver or two-toned tape featured on conventional hi-vis garments has traditionally been known for being stiff, bulky and restrictive. Advanced features like modern day perforated stretch tape can drastically enhance ventilation and the mobility for workers in many industries. 

Sweat Management. Just as important as garment breathability is sweat management. Many workers correlate sweat evaporation with comfort, but in hot environments- that is not always the case! Polyester does a great job at evaporating sweat very quickly, but to remain cool, the presence of sweat on our skin is essential. Fabric blends including cotton backed polyester do a great job at delivering all-day comfort by evaporating sweat at a slower rate. It is subtle things like this that can make a huge difference in body temperature and ultimately lower the risk of heat stress.

At the end of the day, there is no “one solution fits all” approach to avoiding heat stress. It is important for safety professionals to understand these steps and assess their workplace hazards in order to best close the gap between comfort, protection and performance! For assistance implementing the right hydration and cooling PPE with your team, contact PIP® by visiting www.pipusa.com.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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