Summer is off to a blazing start, with temperatures approaching record levels in Colorado.
Unfortunately, heat plus the masks employees in many industries are wearing to help control the spread of COVID-19 could add up to a higher risk of developing heat stress, which can lead to heatstroke, rashes, exhaustion or cramps.
Employees who work outdoors or in restaurant kitchens may be especially vulnerable, since they spend time in places where high temperatures are already a concern.
Fortunately, you can help your employees stay safe this summer while helping control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Hydration is critical to avoiding heat stress. Let employees sip from water bottles as they work. Discourage them from sharing water bottles, which can raise the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
People with asthma, emphysema or other lung- or breathing-related conditions may be at greater risk for breathing problems with masks, and these issues can worsen with heat stress. Offer at-risk workers extra breaks or other accommodations.
Alert employees to heat stress symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, nausea, dizziness or weakness, and heavy sweating. Tell them to seek help as soon as possible if they experience multiple signs.
Even giving workers 10 to 15 minutes to walk outside and remove their masks helps. You can also create a shady or air-conditioned area for employees to take socially distant breaks.
Paper masks may feel lighter and easier to breathe through than cloth masks. Expandable pleats in the mask allow better airflow to the mouth for a more comfortable experience.
Wet masks make it difficult to breathe. Give employees new ones if theirs become sweaty. Wet masks also do not filter air as well, and microorganisms may grow in wet masks.
Light-colored masks absorb fewer ultraviolet rays than dark-colored ones, keeping the mask cooler for employees working outside.
Hats protect your employees’ faces from the sun, making them less likely to overheat.
If possible, let employees who work outdoors begin their shifts earlier in the day, when temperatures are lower.
Offer employees sweat-wicking uniforms that will keep them cooler and reduce the chance of heat stress.
Need assistance with implementing tips for mask safety? Contact a consultant at Pinnacol’s Safety On Call at email@example.com.