Employees returning to work following months of COVID-19-related inactivity may face some problems as the heat of the summer season begins to kick in.
As states begin to ease their lockdown restrictions, out-of-shape workers required to wear face coverings because of coronavirus concerns will return to jobsites just as temperatures are about to skyrocket.
While employers are focusing on efforts to contain and combat the coronavirus, they also should remain aware of the risks posed by heat illness to workers who may need some time to get re-acclimated not only to warmer temperatures, but to safety procedures and PPE – such as face masks – that may be new to them.
Employers may want to be extra vigilant in refreshing employee training on heat illness prevention, which could have slipped workers’ minds while they were in lock-down, according to a blog post by law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
Dangers of hot environments
Those who work in hot environments could be at risk of heat stress, which can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes.
Heat stress can also result in an increased risk of other injuries as workers can get sweaty palms, fogged up safety glasses and dizziness.
Workers are most susceptible to heat illness when they haven’t been given the chance acclimatize to higher temperatures. As they come out of coronavirus-related quarantine, they may be used to air conditioning and cooler indoor temperatures, so they could need more time to get used to hot environments.
The same people at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus – those 65 or older, are overweight, or have heart disease or high blood pressure – are also among those at a higher risk of suffering from heat illness, and may need a longer time than others to re-acclimatize.
Problems with face masks
Face masks required for reducing the spread of COVID-19 could cause further problems as mask-associated “facial heat complaints may represent any of a variety of effects,” including:
- local dermal effects
- increased temperature of breathing air
- elevated core temperature, or
- psychophysiological responses.
In short, risks of heat stress can worsen with masks which function like scarves by keeping warm air near the body.
Considerations for employers
Employers with employees susceptible to heat illness should:
- take efforts to minimize exacerbating effects heat may have in the context of the coronavirus pandemic
- hold refresher training on the hazards posed by heat illness and how to prevent it
- assess the hazard and implement a heat illness prevention plan, and
- consider adding additional breaks and other measures to help workers regulate their body temperatures.