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As heat warnings have been posted across Canada this summer, concerns for those who must work in hot environments have also risen. Factor in the COVID-19 pandemic and the additional issues around personal protective equipment, non-medical masks, and ventilation, and these rising temperatures can pose a serious challenge for workplaces. Preventing and recognizing heat stress is essential to avoiding heat stroke and other illnesses. Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments can be at risk of heat stress.
Outdoor workers at risk include firefighters, farmers, construction workers, agricultural workers, landscapers, mail carriers and others. Indoor settings such as greenhouses, bakeries, restaurants, and any workplace that generates heat as part of their process, or any workplace whose cooling system struggles to keep up with the soaring temperatures outside, also place workers at risk.
Heat Stress and Heat Stroke
Exposure to extreme heat at work can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers resulting from the hazards created by sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.
Awareness of the symptoms and indicators of heat stress are a shared responsibility between workers and employers. In an increasingly hot work environment, workers may feel increased irritability, have difficulty concentrating, or lose the ability to perform skilled tasks or heavy work.
Heat exhaustion is often accompanied by feelings of nausea, heavy sweating, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, and fatigue. Heat exhaustion and fainting (syncope) are types of heat related illnesses which are not fatal but they are still dangerous in that interfere with a person's ability to work safely.
In a very hot environment, the most serious health and safety concern is heat stroke. Heat stroke can be fatal if medical attention is not available immediately. The victims of heat stroke are often unable to notice the symptoms when they are happening to themselves, so their survival depends on their co-workers' ability to identify symptoms and get medical help.
While symptoms can vary from person to person, the warning signs of heat stroke can include complaints of sudden and severe fatigue, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, and may or may not include sweating. If a co-worker appears to be disorientated or confused, or has unaccountable irritability, malaise or flu-like symptoms, the worker should be moved to a cool location and receive medical help immediately. Those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat are at a still greater risk of heat stress.
Employers should provide training to workers so they understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented. Because people are generally unable to notice their own heat stress-related symptoms, it is important that everyone is educated on how to recognize symptoms and seek timely first aid and medical help.
Employers can protect workers from heat stress by avoiding heavy exertion tasks, extreme heat, sun exposure, and high humidity when possible. Guidance for hot workplaces includes providing plenty of drinking water. Workers should drink a cup every 15 to 20 minutes. Any increase in workload should be gradual and increases in temperature taken into consideration. Provide breaks to rest and cool off, preferably in a cool area, in the shade or in air-conditioned buildings or vehicles. If working outdoors, umbrellas, buildings, and trees can also shield workers from the rays of the sun. Keep in mind that you will still need to maintain physical distancing when possible, so limiting the number of workers gathered at any one time or using markings or signs may be necessary. Additional shade shelters may be necessary.
Note that COVID-19 can spread in any climate, including hot and humid conditions. It is important to wash hands often, avoid touching your face, and cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm or a tissue.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) can increase body temperature or discomfort in the heat. Make sure outdoor workers wear light, loose-fitting clothing, UV-rated sunglasses, and a wide-brim hat. Provide sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and UVA/UVB protection and allow workers to re-apply every 2 hours and after sweating. The sun is strongest between 11am and 4pm so less strenuous tasks are more suited to this time.
Indoors or outdoors, give workers regular breaks where they can hydrate and remove their PPE or non-medical masks while still maintaining their physical distance from others. Avoid getting masks wet, as wet masks allow more air and small particles through than dry masks. It may be necessary to use more than one mask per day, depending on the work being done.
For indoor environments, employers should increase the air intake of the ventilation system and avoid central air recirculation where possible. Make sure that all air conditioning and ventilation systems are inspected and in good operational condition to help prevent transmission of COVID-19. If fans must be used, minimize air blowing from one person to another to reduce any potential airborne spread.
Review your existing heat stress plan to take into consideration measures to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Involve your health and safety committee, if you have one, or a representative when assessing workplace risks, and when determining appropriate controls, personal protective equipment, and training.
If a worker has experienced heat stroke or heat exhaustion move them to a cooler, shaded location that is physically distant from other workers. Remove as much clothing as possible, including socks and shoes. Cool them down by applying cool wet cloths or ice to the head, face, or neck and spray with cool water. If a worker likely has heat exhaustion, help them drink water, clear juice, or a sports drink if they are able. If the person does not start to feel better call 911 for emergency help and stay with the person until help arrives.
If the worker may have heat stroke, help them cool down as above but do not force the person to drink liquids. Call 911 immediately if heat stroke is suspected. Heat stroke is a medical emergency.
Tips & Tools
The Government of Canada has put in place emergency orders under the Quarantine Act. It applies to all travellers arriving in Canada. Its purpose is to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. Travellers entering Canada by air or by land must provide basic information and undergo a screening by a border services officer or quarantine officer to assess symptoms.
Download the ArriveCAN app
Use this mobile app to speed up your arrival process in Canada and spend less time with border and public health officers. Submit your information easily and securely via the app within a 48 hours window before arriving in Canada. The app helps you to:
With the ability to capture information requirements electronically, the Government of Canada is also aiming to expand its collection of contact information to those travellers who enter Canada for the purpose of performing an essential job or function. The use of ArriveCAN will help the Government of Canada communicate with travellers via push notifications, and for those travellers required to quarantine or isolate, to promote and verify their compliance with requirements under the Quarantine Act and to record any voluntary report of symptoms of COVID-19 during their 14-day quarantine period.
To support the prevention of harassment and violence in federally regulated industries and work places, the Government of Canada published in June the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations in Part II of the Canada Gazette. The Regulations will come into force, along with other amendments from Bill C-65, on January 1, 2021.
The Regulations outline the essential elements of a work place harassment and violence prevention policy, as well as the procedures that must be in place to respond to occurrences of harassment and violence. These elements include:
Bill C-65 legislation puts into place a comprehensive approach that takes the full spectrum of harassment and violence into consideration. The framework requires employers to prevent occurrences of harassment and violence, respond effectively to these occurrences if and when they do occur, and support affected employees.
These regulations are intended to support federal employers in their efforts to ensure comprehensive policies and procedures are in place in before January 1, 2021 when the legislation comes into effect.
The Government worked closely with Canadians and stakeholders—including employers and employees, unions, and health and safety representatives in federally regulated industries, as well as subject matter experts, advocacy groups and Indigenous partners—on the Regulations.
This month’s feature podcasts include the new episode Workplace Inspections During the COVID-19 Pandemic and an encore presentation of Protection from Pesky Summer Pests.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has created new challenges for workplaces and workplace inspections are changing to adapt to the new reality and the risk posed to workers. Amy Campbell, Health and Safety Program Manager at CCOHS, discusses how workplace inspections have changed during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Podcast: Protection from Summer Pests
Unpleasant encounters with ticks and mosquitos can lead to diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. This podcast episode provides helpful information outdoor workers can use to protect themselves from these pesky summer pests.
The podcast runs 4:49 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Many of you have been asking about the next CCOHS Forum: Changing World of Work event. With the uncertainty around COVID-19 and what it means for our collective health and safety, we have decided not to hold Forum 2021, which was planned for Halifax next May.
We are looking into virtual ways to take program content to an online space, where you can continue to learn from thought leaders, share stories, and exchange ideas. As we know more, we will share with you.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month, we highlight amendments that have been made to provincial legislation in Alberta, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, plus two resources to help you keep track of legislation and re-opening requirements related to COVID-19.
Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code is amended by M.O. 2020-21, which came into force May 3, 2020, and adds section 246.1 as a temporary provision until approximately August 15, 2020. It lists respiratory protective equipment approved for required use at a work site.
New Brunswick’s First Aid Regulation is amended by N.B. Reg. 2020-36 which adds the definition for CSA Group to section 2; amends section 11 to require employers to equip first aid kits according to CSA Z1220-17: First aid kits for the workplace; and, repeals Schedule C. Also, New Brunswick’s General Regulation, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, is amended by N.B. Reg. 2020-35 which replaces the definition for CSA in section 2 and updates references to CSA standards in several sections and makes alignments to the French version.
Prince Edward Island’s new Workplace Harassment Regulations (EC2019-710) came into force July 1, 2020.
Each province and territory has its own plans to meet the needs of its population and economy. This tracker summarizes the status of business and community restoration plans across all Canadian jurisdictions. It documents the local state of emergency orders; what phase of recovery each jurisdiction is in; what kinds of gatherings are permitted; various travel restrictions across the country; and, links to key health and safety guidance for employers. This tracker is updated weekly as the situation across Canada changes.
Access an overview of legislation in all Canadian jurisdictions that has been enacted or amended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although these are unprecedented times, note that Canadian employers and workers retain their rights and responsibilities with respect to health and safety at work. This page also includes references to additional legislation that may be helpful to workplaces, plus links to credible government and non-government resources on a wide range of issues related to the pandemic.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety and environmental legislation you need in one location.
Each year youth across Canada are invited to create an original video that illustrates the importance of working safely, and the entries in the 2020 National Focus on Safety Youth Video Contest did not disappoint. This year the videos were highly original and creative. The top video, produced by a team of Quebec students, encourages young workers to speak up if they have questions about their rights or how to do their jobs safely. Second place went to a team from Manitoba for their creative take on a serious issue: workplace bullying and intimidation. Taking third place honours, a duo from BC reminds us all that not all injuries are visible.
First place: Ask Questions
Producers: Roxanne Lagacé and collaborators: Anne Tardif, Éliane Lebel Lavoie, Léa Filion, Alyson Theberge, Anne-Sara Cousineau, Emmy Ouellet and Sarah-Maude of Sirois Cégep de Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec.
Second place: Workplace Nightmares
Producers: Milla Richards, Haley Kutz, Jackson Ali, Nicole Lavallée, Charlotte Brandao, Tristan Fredrickson, Sydney Morris, Brennan McDonald, Ryan Wall, Connor Fletcher and Rudy Kreutzer of Ecole Park High School, Manitoba.
Third place: Irreversible
Producers: Conor Madill and Mattias Fardy of Matthew McNair Secondary School, British Columbia.
Nine entries were accepted for this national contest from provincial, territorial, and regional contests. The panel of judges included Shirley Hickman, Executive Director, Threads of Life; Denis St-Jean, Director of Health and Safety, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC); and Denise Howitt, Executive Board of Directors, Women in Occupational Health and Safety Society. CCOHS sponsors the national contest and provides financial support to the provincial and territorial contests.
Workplaces and schools alike are encouraged to watch and share these videos. A playlist of all video entries is available on the CCOHS Young Workers Zone.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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