With summer approaching and the impact of climate change, heat stress becomes a key challenge as we are facing that time of year when warm days turns into hot days and we start wondering who we can call to force the boss to install air-conditioning. What is the company’s legal responsibility to do that? What does the OSH Act say?
Well, don’t bother. There is no legal duty on the company to install air-conditioning in your office or building. I will explain later, but for now I want to share something else with you.
Heat stress is a topic that is discussed regularly. It is therefore unfortunate that it becomes rote, and is often overlooked by most people.
Until it affects YOU…
It is easy to list the procedures, the signs and symptoms of, and the effects that heat stress places on the body.
However, personal experience is the best way to describe heat stress.
I live and work in Qatar since 2014. I experienced the heat, the cold, and the humidity. However, I did not take ‘heat stress’ seriously. After all, I am used to the heat from where I am, and was able to cope, even in the hottest days, without much more than being exhausted.
Heat stress does not happen suddenly. It takes about a week, on average, for the person to realise what is happening. By then, it is too late…
My first experience was in 2016, when, during August, possibly the most humid and hot month, I was affected. I was conducting training, and after 3 days, began to feel dizzy, and a little nauseous. I thought nothing of it, and continued. By the 4th day, I had dull headaches that would not go, despite medication. Dizziness, confusion, and disorientation set in.
I rested for a while, not knowing what was wrong. Heat injury did not cross my mind.
Through all this, I did not seek medical attention, and worked through it.
A week later, I sought medical advice, and was informed that I experienced a heat stress injury.
This threw me sideways…I could not believe that I, who am supposed to be the informed person and always ensure that the learners follow the guidelines, succumbed to it.
That was just the beginning.
Unfortunately, once affected, the body is already in a weakened state, and it is only a matter of time before the experience is repeated.
Forward two years…
I was involved with training with LNG fires.
The LNG flame temperature, in excess of 1300 Degrees Celsius, is a lot higher than normal LPG.
Time is a great healer, and I completely forgot about my prior experience.
Firefighting personal protective equipment (bunker gear) contributes greatly to the rapid increase in body heat. I thought that I was consuming enough water (just over 3 liters) per day. Wrong. Midway during the 2nd day of training, my began cramping so much that I could not move much. The pain was excruciating. I could not see well, and was extremely thirsty.
I sought medical attention.
Severe cramps, nausea, dizziness, and the crushing headache were quite difficult to cure immediately. The nurse confirmed that my blood pressure was extremely low.
After 2 drips, and 4 days of muscle relaxants, pain-killers, and lots of rehydration salts, my system was almost restored. I say ‘almost’ because my kidneys had to work really hard, and I do not know if there will be a stone that develops…
The injuries sustained make me more susceptible for further injuries, and regardless of the precautions that I take, I have effectively shortened my lifespan.
I hope that sharing my experiences will help you realise the issue before it is too late, and also that you may help others stay safe.