Here comes the sun! Managing heat stress and face masks

Author: Nick Radcliff, Risk Management and Safety

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As the temperatures begin to rise, employees need to be conscious of the signs and symptoms of heat stress. Heat stress is a buildup of body heat generated either internally by muscle use or externally by environmental factors. Heat stress can occur outdoors, indoors, and in any environment where physically demanding work occurs for extended periods of time. There are four heat related illnesses that can occur from heat stress: Heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most serious heat related illness and can be life threatening.

Signs and symptoms of heat stress include:

  • Fatigue
  • Heavy or no sweating
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Increasing pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Fainting

Employees age 65 or older, employees who have heart problems, or take certain medications are at higher risk for heat related illnesses. To combat heat stress, you should know and quickly identify the signs and symptoms of heat related illness, take quick action by getting into a cooler area with shade, and drink plenty of water (at least 1 cup per hour) and electrolyte containing fluids. If necessary, call 911 from a campus phone or (574)-631-5555 from a cell phone to get help.

Here are some tips for working in the heat with the addition of a face mask:

  • If social distancing is possible, wearing a face mask while working in the heat is not required. Whenever social distancing is not possible, a face mask should be worn.
  • Make sure that the fabric of the face mask is breathable. 100% cotton is recommended.
  • Have a second face mask available in case your face mask gets wet. A wet face mask will not be as effective as a dry one
  • Avoid filters if possible, as they increase the heat of the face mask and make it harder to breathe through.
  • Ensure that your face mask fits properly. A face mask that is too tight may be difficult to  breathe through.
  • If you have chronic, diagnosed breathing problems, limit your time in the heat when wearing a face mask.

Originally published by Nick Radcliff, Risk Management and Safety at ndworks.nd.edu on June 30, 2020.