Protecting Workers in Extreme Heat

Protecting Workers in Extreme Heat

Click here for the full article from Risk Management

Heidi E. Lehmann | September 1, 2021

A worker lying prone on the ground with a hardhat sitting next to them. In the foreground, a person with a first aid pack approaches.

As one might imagine, extreme heat can lead to an increase in workplace injuries. According to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, hot days do not just mean more cases of heat exertion and stroke. Heat stress on the body also leads to a greater incidence of falls and vehicle or machinery mishandling due to loss of concentration. These incidents lead to an additional 20,000 workplace injuries each year in California alone.

On days when the temperature was 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found the overall risk of workplace injuries was 5% to 7% higher on days when temperatures were in the 60s. When temperatures reached 100 degrees, the overall risk of injuries was 10% to 15% higher.

In general, heat-related injuries occur in just about every major group of workers across industries that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks. In 2018, 3,120 workers missed at least one day of work due to environmental heat, and more than 1,100 of those workers were in the construction and transportation industries. According to OSHA’s occupational injury cost estimator, using an average 6% profit margin for construction, the direct and indirect costs of a single heat-related incident require about $1.3 million in sales to offset.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2020 was the second-warmest year on record—just 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than 2016. In addition, the world’s seven-warmest years have all occurred since 2014, and 10 of the warmest years have occurred since 2005. As extreme heat becomes more common, organizations around the world must ensure they are taking proactive measures to protect workers.


How Heat Stress Happens

As a person’s core body temperature rises, sweating is the primary natural mode of cooling down. Blood flow increases to the skin, water and electrolytes are expelled by the sweat glands, and evaporation of sweat cools the body. This process is efficient as long as evaporation can occur, activity level does not increase, and hydration is adequate. However, workers on job sites are subject to their environment and productivity requirements, which may disrupt the body’s cooling process.

The heart rate needs to increase during sweating to pump blood fast enough to get it to the skin to cool off the body. Muscles also require blood to get oxygen and other nutrients for proper function during work. This means the cardiovascular system is strained when working in the heat, sending blood to everywhere it is needed. If a worker is sweating and maintaining a steady workload, eventually they are going to feel the fluid loss from sweating. The sweat loss will result in lower blood volume and pressure.

Working in hot weather impacts the nervous system as well, decreasing a worker’s ability to complete their tasks and affecting their cognitive ability. The nervous system needs to work harder to accomplish the same muscle movement it did when the environment was cooler. This makes work-related tasks harder and cognitive decision-making more difficult.

Adaptation to heat takes time and varies by individual, but the process typically takes two to three weeks when managed properly. Appropriate heat acclimatization is accomplished by increasing one’s core body temperature one degree Celsius for an hour each day. If the job requires workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), as most do, they need to slowly add PPE as well, for example, adding 20% each day and working toward full worksite coverage.

Keep in mind that heat-related injuries can also happen in cooler weather, particularly if a worker is over-exerting or dressed too warmly, causing overheating in their microclimate (the temperature between the skin and clothing).


Monitoring Heat Health

Measuring an employee’s heat health is imperative for detecting the onset of heat stress and taking steps to prevent incidents, injuries and even death. The standard method of measuring an employee’s core body temperature, the primary indicator of an issue, has been through gastrointestinal pills. Workers swallow one of these pills and a wearable device tracks their temperature over a set period of time as the pill moves through the body. Thermometers can also be used to get a temperature reading, but they do not scale well in workforces and only capture temperature at one point in time.

As workers go through their day, their physiology changes based on the conditions and their body’s response, so it is most helpful to track individuals’ health through continuous monitoring, such as via wearable devices. This allows the employee, supervisor and company to get real-time data that prompts an intervention to restore optimal body temperature and allow return to work, increasing productivity and safety.

Some organizations have started using smart PPE technology to enhance safety and minimize risk. Workers don devices with sensors that monitor heart rate, temperature and sweat rate. These are tracked against the individual’s heat susceptibility, as determined by factors including gender, age, underlying health conditions, current medications, and ability to acclimate. Some devices can send alerts to workers to warn them of stresses to their body, and send these alerts to their supervisors and company. Supervisors can then call a time out for individual workers to restore their bodies to safe working levels, while companies can track health data in various conditions at worksites and across multiple teams for a holistic view of their workforce’s health. Because core body temperature affects the work, this technology can also track productivity at the individual, team and corporate levels.


Preventing Heat Risk for Workers

There are a number of ways to protect workers from the impact of heat. Encourage workers to use a buddy system while on the job. Buddies are responsible for checking on specific coworkers’ well-being and they should talk to each other several times during the work day. If one person notices something strange or out of character with the other, they should alert supervisors and immediately get the person to an emergency cooling station on-site.

Educate workers on the signs and symptoms of heat stress. Encourage them to pay attention to their own symptoms and what their body may be telling them. Let employees know it is dangerous to “push through” the situation by being “tough” under extreme circumstances. It is not productive for the job—heat stress actually slows the work pace and increases errors. Working safely is the goal, not speed or testing the limits of the human body.

Acknowledge when a worker is vocal about symptoms and take all comments about changes in the body seriously. When the onset of heat stress is detected, stop the individual from working, get them to shade or air conditioning, and encourage them to drink fluids, especially water. Check on the person every five minutes to make sure they are recovering and feeling better. After 10 to 15 minutes, they may return to work if their symptoms have subsided. If not, continue treatment to eliminate the symptoms or seek professional medical attention for the worker if symptoms do not subside.

If the worker exhibits symptoms of heat stroke (when their body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit and they are confused or vomiting), immediately call for emergency medical services. While waiting for emergency assistance to arrive, help the worker cool down as quickly as possible. If available, try using ice baths or rotating cold compresses around the person’s body. Most importantly, do not leave their side until help arrives.

Heat-related injuries are almost entirely preventable. The latest techniques and tools, such as wearable devices, can help organizations understand the potential severity of the problem and respond appropriately, better protecting employees in extreme working conditions.

KENZEN Unveils Cloud-Based Heat Monitoring System for Worker Safety

KENZEN Unveils Cloud-Based Heat Monitoring System for Worker Safety

From Verdict UK–Click here for the full article

10th August 2021 

Kenzen Unveils Cloud-Based Heat Monitoring System for Worker Safety

Concept: American startup Kenzen has released a real-time worker heat monitoring system to predict and prevent illness and injury from heat, over-exertion, and fever. The cloud-based SaaS system involves a wearable PPE device that workers wear on their arms to alert themselves and their supervisors when the core body temperature approaches unsafe levels. Real-time alerts enable immediate intervention and safety from heat injuries.

Nature of Disruption: The wearable device leverages its sensor complement to track multiple physiological and environmental metrics such as skin, activity, heart rate, and ambient temperatures. Data from the sensors help predict core body temperature in real-time. The system sends multi-level alerts to workers through device vibration, iOS or Android app notification, and to supervisors through the web dashboard, indicating that the worker should take a break and allow the body temperature to return to normal levels. Alerts are accompanied by actionable recommendations that advise workers to take a break, find shade, remove excess clothing and equipment, or drink water to reduce body heat. Subsequently, the system sends a ‘back to work’ alert when the worker’s body temperature returns to a safe level. The system’s data can help companies identify heat risk and modify worksites accordingly to improve worker safety, maximize productivity, and manage outcomes. Some of the modifications might include work-rest schedule changes, the addition of water and shade stations, the inclusion of air-conditioned rest areas, and recommendations for pre-staging ice-bath locations during extreme weather and working conditions. The data can also be used to make informed decisions about workplace expenditures like equipment and clothing. The Kenzen system has been piloted on global industrial conglomerate worksites in domains like construction, power, oil and gas, field services, and renewable energy.

Outlook: Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments are at an increased risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and accidental burns. Although heat-related illnesses and injuries are preventable, they can prove to be fatal if not detected on time. Kenzen aims to offer a cloud-based risk management system that would provide real-time insights to prevent heat-related illness and injuries among workers and help companies acclimatize their worksites to improve worker safety. In the future, the startup wishes to introduce open APIs to incorporate the heat management system into large connected-worker platforms. It also expects to receive Intrinsic Safety (IS) certification, required for the use of the system in mining, oil and gas, and other enclosed environments.

KENZEN wins ISHN 2021 Readers’ Choice Award: Best PPE, safety equipment products

KENZEN wins ISHN 2021 Readers’ Choice Award: Best PPE, safety equipment products

2021 Readers’ Choice Awards Winners: Best PPE, safety equipment products

ISHN Magazine recognizes the most innovative personal protection equipment and occupational health and safety products of 2021

Click here for the full story: 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards Winners: Best PPE, safety equipment products | 2020-07-20 | ISHN

KENZEN’s new features help workers stay safe during summer months

KENZEN’s new features help workers stay safe during summer months

From the Kansas City Business Journal–Click here for the full article

By   –  Staff Writer, Kansas City Business Journal

Kenzen Chief Commercial Officer Heidi Lehmann shares how the tech company’s new features play a role in workplace safety and how it can help the company transition to an analytics play.

Heat Stress Indicators to Watch For During the Hot Summer Ahead

Heat Stress Indicators to Watch For During the Hot Summer Ahead

Link to the full article from Construction Executive

By Michael Prewitt | Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The warming months are bringing heat safety to mind for anyone who works outside or in a challenging hot environment. How bad is it going to get? And what can be done to make it easier on everyone? These are common questions that arise this time of year.

Humans have an incredible ability to adapt to varying environments, but adaptation to heat takes time and varies by individual. Acclimatization to heat can take from two to three weeks when done properly and risks the worker’s health and work site safety if not done properly.

Appropriate heat acclimatization is accomplished by increasing one’s core body temperature 1°C for an hour each day during the work period. If the job requires PPE, as most do, workers need to slowly add PPE each day to balance acclimatization – adding 20% of clothing and equipment each day until the full worksite PPE can be worn. It’s not easy to put a worker that is used to cooler climates into a hot environment and have productivity and well-being stay the same. While it takes time and understanding of proper techniques, simple acclimatization steps make for a better, more productive jobsite in hot conditions.

Beyond acclimatization, dealing with heat during work is a complex problem. That’s because heat adaptability depends on how efficient a person is at cooling him or herself, via sweat, and there are several things that can contribute to that:

  • being older than 35;
  • psoriasis, cardiovascular disease or diabetes;
  • prescription drugs for a variety of illnesses;
  • over-the-counter drugs; and
  • nicotine and alcohol use.

Including all of that information in protective strategies can be a logistical challenge. Understanding the physiological functions can help inform what metrics to use for recognizing heat stress.

As a worker’s core body temperature rises, the primary mode of cooling off is through sweating. Blood flow is increased to the skin, water and electrolytes are expelled by the sweat glands, and the evaporation of sweat cools the body down. This process is very efficient, as long as evaporation can occur while activity level does not increase and adequate hydration occurs.

Once a worker starts sweating on the job site in the heat, she needs to be monitored to track her health vitals. Heart rate needs to increase during sweating in order to pump blood fast enough to get it to the skin to cool down. But muscles also require blood to get oxygen and other nutrients for proper function during work in the heat. This means the cardiovascular system has added strain because it must get blood everywhere it is needed.

If a worker is sweating and maintaining a steady workload, eventually that fluid loss from the sweat is going to be felt. Sweat loss will result in lower blood volume and pressure. In order to maintain physical activity for work and continue sweating to keep the body cool, the heart once again needs to beat faster.

Being able to monitor a worker’s heart rate, body temperature, sweat rate and knowing the intensity of their daily labor can provide the best insights to the individual’s health at any given time during warm working conditions for the onsite supervisor or health and safety officer. Allowing managers to give each worker breaks at the right time (when their individual body needs them), with water and shade, can keep everyone safe in the heat.

The cardiovascular system is not the only vital function that’s disrupted during hot work. The nervous system is also impacted, decreasing a worker’s ability to complete tasks as well as affecting cognitive ability. Similar to the cardiovascular system having to work harder in the heat, the nervous system also needs to work harder in order to accomplish the same muscle movement that happened without the added heat. An overtasked nervous system makes work-related tasks harder as well as making cognitive decision-making more difficult. A worker experiencing heat stress is forcing their heart to work harder while his muscles are challenged to continue work and their cognitive functions are dropping, which add up to a significant risk to the individual, the team, the project and the company.

Worker heat stress is a serious and complex problem. Current heat safety strategies, without the use of today’s new smart PPE health monitors, may be well intentioned but not as effective as they could be. Today, advanced monitoring of personal heat stress indicators is possible, helping workers and their supervisors more closely watch individual physiological indicators of heat stress such as heart rate, sweat rate and activity levels, making summertime jobsites safer and more productive.