Effects of Exposure to Extremes Of Temperature At Work & Control Measures

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Effects of Exposure to Extremes Of Temperature At Work & Control Measures

Exposure to Extremes of Temperature

Effects of Exposure

Extreme temperature environments can be found in some workplaces. For example, workers in a foundry or bakery will be exposed to a very hot, dry environment; workers in a cold storage warehouse will be exposed to a very cold environment. Those who work outdoors may be exposed to both extremes depending on climate and season.

Health and safety effects of working in a hot environment:

  • Dehydration – water is lost as a result of sweating.
  • Muscle cramps – as a result of salt loss through sweating.
  • Heat stress – where core temperature (37°C) cannot be controlled and starts to increase; causes discomfort, lethargy, headaches and fainting.
  • Heat exhaustion – a precursor to heat stroke.
  • Heat stroke – where core temperature increases rapidly; causes hallucinations, coma and death.
  • Other effects associated with the source of the heat, such as skin burns or cancer from exposure to sunlight, or burns from radiant heat and contact with hot surfaces.

Health and safety effects of working in a cold environment:

Hypothermia – core temperature drops below 35°C; causes shivering, mood swings, irrational behaviour, lethargy, drowsiness and death.

Frostbite – body tissues are frozen; causes tissue damage and, in extreme cases, necrosis, gangrene and amputation.

Slip hazards – in particular, floors will become slippery with ice.

Freeze-burn injuries – from skin contact with very cold surfaces.

Apart from these specific effects, both environments create an increased risk of fatigue because of the stress on the body; this makes workers more prone to accidents.

Exposure to Extremes of Temperature

Preventive Measures

Inevitably, the first course of action is to eliminate the need for workers to enter the extreme temperature environment (e.g. by automation of a process). Where this cannot be done, the environment might be regulated to reduce the temperature extremes (e.g. heating a cold workplace to more reasonable temperatures). If these options are not possible then other controls might be:

For a hot environment:

  • Provide good workplace ventilation – moving air has a cooling effect.
  • Insulate heat sources – by lagging hot pipes.
  • Shield heat sources – to control radiant heat and prevent contact burns.
  • Provide cool refuges – where workers can escape the heat.
  • Provide easy access to drinking water or isotonic drinks.
  • Provide frequent breaks and job rotation.
  • Provide appropriate clothing for use in the hot work environment, but consideration must be given to other workplace hazards.

For a hot environment

For a cold environment:

  • Prevent or protect workers from draughts.
  • Shield/lag extremely cold surfaces.
  • Provide warm refuges – where workers can warm up.
  • Provide PPE – such as insulated jackets, trousers, boots, balaclavas, etc.
  • Provide frequent breaks and job rotation.
  • Provide easy access to hot food and drinks.
  • Scrape, salt, or grit icy floors.

For a cold environment

In both types of environment, information, instruction, training and supervision should be provided so that workers understand the health consequences of the environment and the early warning signs of problems.

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