Your employer may tailor the existing heat illness prevention program and policies to the unique challenges of working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
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.
Early signs of heat stroke may include:
- Difficulty performing routine tasks or answering simple questions (e.g., “What is today’s date?” “Where are we?”)
- Slurred speech
Late signs of heat stroke may include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Organ failure resulting in death
In addition to training you on the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, your employer should provide instruction on general first aid and how to obtain prompt medical treatment for anyone who may experience a heat-related illness at work.
This CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers highlights some of the changes you may see at your worksite to minimize the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Some of these may be part of your employer’s existing heat illness prevention program and may increase your risk for heat-related illnesses due to:
- Loss of your body’s natural ability to adapt to heat (acclimatization). This can occur if your workplace has closed temporarily or if you have been off work for a week or more.
- Lack of a re-acclimatization component of work re-entry plan if you have been out of the work environment for more than 1 week.
- Increased heat burden associated with cloth face coverings or masks or, for healthcare workers, additional PPE required for COVID-19 (for example disposable plastic gowns and gloves). These can:
- Trap heat close to the skin and prevent normal cooling like sweat evaporation.
- Increase the effort required to breathe through a cloth face covering or mask, or, for healthcare workers, a respirator.
- Increase anxiety you may feel during wear.
- Increased physical activity if you need to do more than your usual job tasks due to social distancing requirements. For example, you might have to walk more or lift objects more frequently if there are fewer employees at your workplace.
- Longer work shifts, resulting in spending more time in the hot work environment to catch up on work missed during earlier shutdowns.