Have you been feeling the heat a little too much at work lately? It’s not just you. The heatwaves affecting the northern hemisphere have been doing more that just overworking the thermostats! Forbes suggests the impacts to the US alone could be melting as much as $US100 billion a year from the nation’s economy. After all, buckling highways, flight cancellations, and unexpected siestas in oil, gas and electricity supplies add up to a lot of lost capability. Heat wave temperatures impact the way we work too, sapping our productivity. But don’t sweat it – Way We Do is here to help cool heads prevail in your workplace.
The basics of heat tolerance during a heat wave
We all respond to heat waves differently, and there’s more to it than a debate on summer shorts. Our sweat glands play a crucial role when a heat wave strikes, giving us more than just a post-meeting glow – they’re our personal air conditioners!
Some of the factors that can intensify the effects of a heat wave at work are:
- the nature of specific roles
- the intensity of daily tasks
- clothing choices, especially during prolonged heat wave conditions
- other environmental elements like how high the mercury rises, humidity levels, and whether or not there’s a saving breeze.
For most, 68-78°F (20-26°C) might be the workspace sweet spot. But when a heat wave pushes temperatures up, those involved in physical tasks might need things even cooler. No employee wants to feel they’ve been working under the direct sun.
Heat wave illnesses: When conditions go beyond ordinary summer heat
Keep an eye out for these heat-related conditions during heat waves.
- Dehydration: This can go beyond simple feelings of thirst, but can result in being easily distracted, and experiencing confusion and slurred speech.
- Heat rash: A clear sign from your skin during intense heat waves
- Muscle cramps: These aren’t just from forgetting to do the occasional office stretch. You lose electrolytes when you sweat, which can lead to imbalances that lead to cramping and muscle pain.
- Heat exhaustion: Can become a medical emergency if not treated, and is caused by a severe loss of electrolytes from the body. As well as thirst, you may feel nauseous, headachey and irritable. Your core temperature may rise, accompanied by excessive sweating.
- Heatstroke: Also known as sun-stroke, this is a severe response to extreme heat and is considered a medical emergency. Note, its onset can be sudden as well as gradual, so watch out for the signs of dizziness, confusion, a 104-plus (40°C) core temperature, red skin and headaches.
Staying comfortable and safe during a heat wave comes down to monitoring and managing environmental and personal factors.
- Peak temperatures during the day
- Air movement
- Unseen radiant heat
- Workspace design – is your workplace open and airy, or are you and your team trapped in the the effects of the heat wave?
- Level of physical activity
- How long a person is exposed to elevated temperatures
- Use of protective and/or comfortable clothing
- An individual’s fitness level and their readiness for the heat
- Overall health and wellbeing.
Some people are more at risk than others from the health complications brought on during a heat wave, like:
- those who prefer sedentary tasks
- expectant mothers
- those who are still recovering from last night’s celebrations
- those suffering from heart or lung disease.
Workspaces in a heat wave: More than just hot air
Certain locations can amplify the effects of a heat wave. Areas like busy kitchens, industrial zones and certain confined spaces can become heat traps.
Research suggests people aged 45 and over may have a lower ability to work in hot environments, making them more susceptible to its deleterious effects.
But workers under 25 can also be at risk, due to their levels of physical activity, lack of skills and experience in managing their health in the workplace, and a reluctance to raise issues or concerns with their supervisors.
If any of your staff have concerns about the heat – whether due to their health history or just wanting to better understand how to cope – encourage them to talk with their doctor.
4 simple steps to beating the heat at work
As the global thermostat creeps higher, it’s time for everyone in the office – from the head honcho to the newest recruit – to get proactive. Hotter temperatures might be great for the holidays, but at work, it’s a different story.
Source: New South Wales Government, SafeWork
We’ve taken inspiration from the New South Wales state government, here in Australia, with a 4-step approach to ‘beat the heat’.
1. Spot the heat culprits
Before you can chill, you have to identify the sneaky sources turning your workplace into a sauna. From machinery to the sun’s rays searing through your windows – there’s a culprit in every corner.
2. Know your heat effects
- Workforce impacts – make sure your staff know the signs, and what to do if or when they appear.
- Heat rashes: It’s like your skin decided to throw a mini protest against the heat.
- Heat cramps: It’s that sudden “Ouch! Where did that come from?” feeling in your muscles.
- Heat exhaustion: Imagine feeling like you’ve just had to to an all-out sprint to the bus on a typical hot day. It feels a lot like that. Act fast, or you might find yourself in the next category.
- Heat stroke: This is where things get real. Your body is throwing a serious heat tantrum and it won’t knock it off until it gets what it wants – treatment. Don’t let yourself get this bad.
- Business continuity curveballs: Think of staff who may be out of town or working remotely. Flight cancellations, melting highways, and power sources playing keep-away. How prepared is your business to navigate these warm-weather wobbles in the wider infrastructure?
3. Great cool-down tactics
Level 1: Show the heat the door
- Cool timings: Consider shifting tasks to the cooler parts of the day. If the sun can take a break, so can you.
- Breathe easy: Bring in fans, open up windows, or find other ways to get that cool, fresh air circulating.
- Power up with generators: Anticipate potential blackouts from heat strain on the grid. Invest in backup generators to keep essential operations humming and indoor environments cool.
Level 2: Summertime strategy
- Swap hot for cool: Think about switching out that over-heating equipment for something a little more temperature-friendly.
- Designated cool zones: It’s like that one café you love that always seems to have the perfect ambiance. Create a similar vibe away from heat sources at work.
- Smart engineering: Set up shades, insulate hot surfaces, and maybe even get some reflective barriers.
Level 3: Play it cool
- Rotate and rest: Keep shifting roles to give everyone a break from the heat, kind of like musical chairs.
- Gear up smart: Without going full winter-mode, consider gear like cooling vests or hats to keep things breezy.
4. Keeping it cool
With your new approaches in place, take a moment every once in a while to:
- check the vibe – use devices like heat stress monitors to keep the workplace temperature under control
- get feedback – just like reviewing a restaurant, get feedback on the cool vibe, and how the new tactics are working out
- adapt and evolve – if something’s not quite right, tweak it; after all, adaptation is about changing with the conditions.
Living and working through the heat is all about being aware, being prepared, and taking appropriate action to protect yourself and your team. Remember, it’s not just about comfort – it’s about safety too. So, here’s to a cooler, more comfortable workplace.