Preventing heat cramps & heat exhaustion

Parts of Western Canada experienced an unexpected heatwave in May 2023. Summer in Canada might arrive earlier than June 21st, and heat waves might strike unexpectedly in different places. Canadians love summer, well most of us do. For some of us, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” – while for others it’s the most dreaded time of the year.   

We enjoy many benefits of summer such as; home grown vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers, a steady supply of Vitamin D which gives us an energy boost, long walks in the park, picnics, camping, BBQs, going to the beach, hiking, and so much more. But, work continues, and construction sites are the busiest during summer. It is also the season for cutting the grass, and to take on other landscaping projects. We make the most of our wonderful summer days, which sometimes means working long hours in the heat. This is especially true for:

  • Construction workers
  • Farmers and farm workers
  • Landscapers 
  • Skilled Trade Professionals

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, workers might react differently to the heat. Ensure your team is trained to recognize the early signs of health issues. Also, encourage a “buddy system” within your team or working group,  to help keep everyone safe and accounted for. 

Environment Canada issues heat warnings at different temperatures, depending on the region. In the South of Ontario, a heat warning will be issued after at least two days of a humidex of 42C or higher. However, in Labrador, there will be a heat warning after only an hour of the humidex reaching 40C.

What happens when someone is experiencing cramps?

Heat cramps are sharp pains in the muscles. They appear when there is a buildup of salt in the body, if water lost through sweating is not replaced. The worker or an individual experiencing heat cramp, should be moved to a cooler area and stay hydrated.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

They include:

  • Nausea or irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Feeling faint
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Heavy sweating
  • High body temperature

First aid attendants should offer aid while medical aid is coming. Medical experts believe  that heat exhaustion can quickly develop into heat stroke. Please call 911 if a coworker, a loved one, or an individual is experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Very high body temperature

How can you prevent these unfortunate events?

Working in different environments helped me to create this list of prevention measures:

  • Keep a cooler workplace by investing in cooling systems and fans
  • Move the work to a cooler space, if it is not possible to install temporary tents for shade  
  • Train your team to recognize the signs of heat illness
  • Create a health check system 
  • Offer body cooling products to everyone, i.e. wristbands, scarves
  • Create a toolbox with a focus on recognizing the symptoms of heat illness
  • Have first aid available on-site at all times
  • Provide filtered water bottle filling stations
  • Post around the workplace heat illness symptoms

Pay attention to the heat alerts in your region and regularly check the forecast to create plans ahead for hot days. 

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke: CCOHS – Heat Safety 

Different heat alerts issued by region: RedCross – Information of heat waves

By Gabriela Mancas, Occupational Health, and Safety Consultant 

Gabriela Mancas – LinkedIn

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