10 tips to decrease your employees’ risk of heat stress while wearing masks 

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. 

10 ways to avoid heat stress while wearing masks

1. Remind employees to hydrate regularly

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.

2. Monitor workers with preexisting conditions

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. 

3. Post signs listing symptoms of heat stress

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. 

4. Allow employees more breaks

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.

5. Use disposable non-medical masks

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. 

6. Buy backup masks

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.

7. Encourage light-colored masks

Light-colored masks absorb fewer ultraviolet rays than dark-colored ones, keeping the mask cooler for employees working outside. 

8. Let workers wear hats

Hats protect your employees’ faces from the sun, making them less likely to overheat. 

9. Change working hours

If possible, let employees who work outdoors begin their shifts earlier in the day, when temperatures are lower. 

10. Provide sweat-wicking clothes

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 safetyoncall@pinnacol.com.

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