How to mitigate the impact of extreme heat on your workforce
In the last few years, we have been experiencing a number of heatwaves in different regions of the world which, besides becoming more frequent, are also becoming longer and more intense. According to ERA5 data from the EU-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded.
Heatwaves are amongst the most dangerous of natural hazards, causing a significant impact on human health, and in some cases leading to death. Statistics from the World Health Organisation show that more than 166,000 people died due to heatwaves between 1998 and 2017, including 70,000 who died during the 2003 heatwave in Europe.
Extreme heat has a direct impact on human health and can cause a variety of illnesses: whilst dehydration, heat stroke and cramps are the most common heat-related issues that have been observed, more serious issues such as stroke, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases can also happen and lead to hospitalisation.
Heat also has indirect health effects on individuals. It can alter human behaviour and thus increase the risk of work-related accidents and injuries and may in some cases disrupt critical social infrastructure such as transport, energy and water. Health services are also impacted by the increased number of hospital admissions and ambulance callouts during heatwaves, leading to slower response times.
Extreme temperatures are set to become “the new normal”, so it is crucial for organisations to be able to mitigate the impact of heat on their workforce.
We are providing the following advice to organisations and their workforce to stay healthy when exposed to intense heat:
- Share the latest Medilink Health Alerts with your employees so that they can monitor the health situation of the country they are located in real time.
- Raise awareness about the symptoms of heat-related health issues to your workforce such as exhaustion, rash, cramps or heat stroke. It is essential for your employees to be able to detect these symptoms early and to seek medical advice if necessary.
- Emphasise the importance of staying hydrated and drinking water regularly to avoid heatstroke. Remind individuals to avoid drinking soft drinks such as sodas, commercial fruit juices and sport drinks since they contain a high amount of sugar and might cause dehydration on the long term.
- Encourage employees to dress appropriately and wear loose and lightweight clothing as much as possible. Light-coloured clothes that reflect heat are also recommended, as well as hats to protect the head from the sun.
- Stress the importance of taking breaks in cool places to avoid prolonged exposure to sun and reduce the risk of exhaustion. Remind individuals to protect their skin by applying sunscreen frequently, in order to avoid skin damage resulting from the sun.