Heat Stress and the COVID-19 Pandemic

August 31, 2020

Heat stress is the total amount of heat your body encounters. It may come from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Heat from work processes and machinery (e.g., forge)
  • Environmental temperatures, humidity, and lack of air movement (e.g., no wind or inadequate air circulation)
  • Internal metabolic processes (e.g., illnesses that create a fever)
  • Heat generated by your muscles from physical exertion
  • Clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) may also trap heat, further increasing heat exposure.
  • Increased heat burden associated with cloth face coverings or masks.
    1. Trap heat close to the skin and prevent normal cooling like sweat evaporation.
    2. Increase the effort required to breathe through a cloth face covering or mask, or, for healthcare workers, a respirator.
    3. Increase anxiety you may feel during wear.

Workers who are exposed to extreme heat, work in hot environments, or perform physically demanding work in moderate heat environments may be at risk for heat-related illnesses and injuries. The most severe form of heat-related illness is heat stroke, a life-threatening medical emergency that can result in death.

How can you reduce your risk for heat-related illness during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your physical ability to work safely in a potentially hot environment. Be sure to discuss any pre-existing medical conditions you have, medicines, PPE, or cloth face covering or mask use, and social distancing practices.
  • It is extremely important to be properly hydrated before the workday starts.
    • When you work in hot environments, over time there are changes in body function that improves its ability to shed excess heat safely. These changes take time to happen and can be lost when away from the hot work environment for a prolonged period.
  • Identify a work buddy to check for symptoms of heat-related illness.
    • Continue to follow your workplace social distancing requirements.
    • Wearing cloth face coverings or masks may make seeing facial expressions difficult. You will need to rely more on verbal check-ins with your buddy.
      • Verbal check-ins may include asking each other easy questions and listening for a correct reply given without hesitation or slurring.
      • If your buddy indicates they feel unwell or their reply is difficult to understand, alert your supervisor and begin first aid procedures.
  • Take longer and more frequent rest breaks.
  • Rehydrate and cool down safely.
  • Maintain social distancing (at least 6 feet) during rest breaks. Proper social distancing is very important during breaks as workers will need to remove cloth face coverings, masks that cover the mouth in order to rehydrate.
    • Check your cloth face covering or mask during this time. If it feels or looks damp or dirty replace it with a clean one before ending your break.
    • Avoid gathering around water refill stations or where drinks are stored.
  • Maintain your hydration.
    • Touch only the disposable paper cone or cup that you plan to use.
    • Avoid touching your drinking cup or bottle to the water dispenser when refilling it.
    • Take bottled water with you.
  • Be aware of the position of cooling and/or misting fans.
    • Avoid standing or sitting directly downwind of someone who is in front of a cooling fan. This will keep air from the fan from blowing respiratory droplets from them onto you.
    • Continue to monitor your buddy during rest breaks for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, while maintaining social distancing.
  • Follow an emergency plan for heat-related illnesses.
    • Immediately remove your coworker (or yourself) from the hot environment into a cool or shaded area.
    • Notify management or the nearest worker who can get help.
    • Remove PPE that is normally required for any job tasks, cloth face coverings or masks, and excess clothing from the affected worker to facilitate cooling.
    • Cool worker with cold compresses or have the worker wash head, face and neck with cold water.
    • If the affected worker is alert, provide them with cool liquids to drink.
  • If you suspect heat stroke:
    • Call 911 or Client facility emergency number.
    • Carefully remove all PPE that is normally required for any job tasks, cloth face coverings or masks, and excess clothing from the affected person to cool their body quickly in or with water or other cool liquids and resuscitation measures.
    • Cool the affected worker aggressively while waiting for the ambulance. You can use ice, cool water baths, or misting sprays. But if the worker is not fully conscious, take care to keep water from going into the worker’s mouth and lungs.
    • If providing first aid or resuscitation, continue wearing your PPE (e.g., healthcare personnel) or cloth face covering or mask.