Outdoor workers are at risk from work-related injuries in temperatures like those seen across the Fraser Valley this month.
Lifeguards are among the most affected outdoor workers, according to WorkSafeBC. And at the Cultus Lake Waterpark last week, several workers were definitely feeling the effects of air quality. Guest services manager Ian Kanski says that they are practiced in helping guest and staff with asthma or breathing-related health concerns. And that came into play on Aug. 2.
“We administered oxygen and removed a few staff members from duty due in some part to the air quality issues the whole Lower Mainland has been experiencing,” he said in an email to The Progress. “We have also taken measures with our staff to shorten shifts where possible, increase rotations and frequency of breaks, and provide water and increase hydration. We are reminding staff not to over exert themselves.”
He said they are also reminding guests and the public to exercise caution when making plans to be outdoors, and to check with local weather authorities for most current air quality conditions.
That’s exactly the advice handed out by WorksafeBC in light of the poor air quality from wildfire smoke. They say that when heat and air quality start to affect a worker, that’s when accidents are more likely to happen. Last year, WorkSafeBC accepted 16 such claims, which were caused by heat exhaustion and heat stroke. And the occupations with the highest number of heat stress-related claims were those who spend much of their time indoors or on the road.
They are truck and bus drivers, lifeguards, recreation sport and fitness leaders, and even motion-picture production assistants. WorkSafeBC is reminding both employees and employers to be aware of the risks, and offer some suggestions to reduce the impact of high temperatures.
“Outdoor workers face many risks when the weather is hot,” says Dan Strand, WorkSafeBC Prevention Field Services Director. “By law, employers are required to know if their workers are at risk by performing a heat-stress assessment and implementing a mitigation plan, when necessary.”
Heat stress occurs when your internal temperature increases faster than the body can cool itself, they say. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excess sweating, dizziness, fainting and muscle cramps. Symptoms of heat stroke include cessation of sweating, an increased breathing rate, confusion, seizures and even cardiac arrest.
Between 2007 and 2016 in the Fraser Valley region, there were nine accepted claims for heat stress-related injuries.
Here’s what employers can do to lessen the risks:
• Monitor heat conditions and require workers not to work alone.
• Ensure there is adequate first-aid coverage and emergency procedures are in place.
• Make physical modifications to facilities, equipment, processes to reduce exposure
• Change work practices and policies to limit the risk
• Determine appropriate work-rest cycles; when a worker feels ill it may be too late
• Rotate work activities or use additional workers to reduce exposure
• Establish cooling areas with shade and water
There are things employees can do to help reduce their risks of injury as weel:
• Drink plenty of water (one glass every 20 minutes)
• Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric such as cotton
• Take rest breaks in a cool, well-ventilated area
• Do the hardest physical work during the coolest parts of the day, before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m.
• Know your personal risk factors such as medications and any pre-existing conditions
• Check the signs and symptoms for yourself and co-workers