PPE and Heat: Risk of Heat Stress
Public Health England and the Health & Safety Executive have released an alert that highlights the risks associated with wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) in hot environments. Although aimed at providing guidance for people in work settings, the advice is applicable to the wider public in light of the now widespread use of PPE.
The guidance highlights the following:
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in warm/hot environments increases the risk of heat stress. This occurs when the body is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. Heat stress can cause heat exhaustion and lead to heat stroke if the person is unable to cool down.
- PPE reduces the body’s ability to evaporate sweat and prevents heat loss through convection and radiation
- PPE reduces the scope to adapt to the environment by removing clothing
- The impact of PPE on a person’s risk of heat stress in a health or social care setting will depend on work rate, workplace climate, PPE and the individual.
Heat stress can present as heat exhaustion and lead to heat stroke if the person is unable to cool down. Heat exhaustion is when someone becomes very hot and starts to lose water or salt from their body. Heat stroke is where the body is no longer able to cool itself and a person’s body temperature becomes dangerously high.
The signs and symptoms to watch out for are the following:
- dizziness and confusion;
- loss of appetite and feeling sick;
- excessive sweating
- pale, clammy skin;
- cramps in the arms, legs and stomach;
- fast breathing or pulse;
- temperature of 38°C or above;
- being very thirsty.
The following are recommended measures to prevent/ minimise the risks if you are in a hot environment, particularly for work or if in a hot environment indoors:
- Take regular breaks, find somewhere cool if you can
- Make sure you are hydrated (checking your urine is an easy way of keeping an eye on your hydration levels – dark or strong-smelling urine is a sign that you should drink more fluids).
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stress and dehydration (thirst, dry mouth, dark or strong-smelling urine, urinating infrequently or in small amounts, inability to concentrate, muscle cramps, fainting). Don’t wait until you start to feel unwell before you take a break.
- Use a buddy system with your team to look out for the signs of heat stress (eg confusion, looking pale or clammy, fast breathing) in each other.
- Between shifts, try to stay cool as this will give your body a chance to recover.
For more information, with appropriate links, please click here.