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Yes. All regions in Canada are experiencing warmer weather, and temperatures will continue to increase. According to Canada’s Climate Change report (2019), Canada’s annual average land temperature has warmed by a best estimate of 1.7°C since 1948 with higher increases observed in the North, the Prairies, and northern British Columbia.
This increase in temperature may pose significant health risks to workers due to heat-related illnesses. Employers have a general duty to take all precautions reasonable to protect their workers, as well as specific legislative requirements regarding workplace temperatures (e.g., occupational exposure limits). This document provides guidance on how to protect workers from extreme heat events and how to make work environments safer.
The effects of warmer weather include more extreme heat events which can cause significant health issues such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat stress related illnesses.
Higher temperatures for longer periods of time can increase the risk of injuries due to fatigue, lack of concentration, poor decision making, and other factors. A reduction in productivity may also occur.
Hotter temperatures can increase the levels of air pollution and harmful exposures to workers, such as ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (e.g., smog). Poor air quality can be caused by increased sunlight, warmer temperatures, and the buildup of air contaminants due to stagnant air. The presence of air pollution combined with the sun’s ultraviolet rays and heat results in a chemical reaction that produces ground-level ozone which is harmful to breathe. Wildfires and droughts (from wind-blown soil and dust) contribute to poor air quality. There may also be higher levels of allergy causing pollen in the air due to longer pollen seasons, and increased pollen production.
These impacts on air quality are linked to chronic health issues such as respiratory disease, heart disease, and allergies.
Increasing temperatures may cause elevated levels of stress on workers, including workers involved in emergency services. Outdoor workers may experience stress when they need to change their schedules and hours due to the temperature which can impact their work-life balance.
Equipment and materials, especially those items used outside, can be impacted by higher temperatures. Hot temperatures can cause equipment components to work harder and possibly wear out faster. This overheating may cause an increase in delays, unexpected disruptions, higher maintenance costs, and an increased risk of injuries for operators and anyone around the equipment.
In an extreme heat event, persons who are not yet acclimatized to the heat may find it more difficult to deal with the hot temperatures while performing their job. Control measures must be implemented to protect workers, and time given to allow workers to acclimatize to the heat. Emergency service providers, including paramedics and firefighters, may also be overwhelmed with having to respond to an excess number of heat-related illness calls. This increase in cases could lead to a delayed response time from emergency services to arrive if a worker requires immediate medical attention (e.g., due to heat stroke), which further emphasizes the importance for workplaces to protect their workers from heat.
Additional circumstances that can increase the risk of suffering a heat-related illness during extreme heat events include workers who:
Extreme heat can put everyone at risk for heat-related illness, although health risks are greater for:
Prepare for the heat by developing and implementing a heat stress plan which outlines the measures needed to prevent heat stress, as well as addressing extreme heat events. A heat stress plan may also be part of your emergency preparedness and response plans. The most effective strategies to protect workers are to implement preventive measures and controls to eliminate or minimize a worker’s exposure to extreme heat.
The following control measures will help workplaces address heat concerns:
Train supervisors and workers on how prevent heat stress, and how to recognize the signs and symptoms. All workers should know how to respond if heat stress is suspected, and what to do in an emergency.
Please see the OSH Answers Hot Environments – Health effects and First Aid for more information.
Please see the following OSH Answers for more information: