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Health & Other Issues

Heat stress is a genuine medical emergency. But in the UK it is usually only an occupational health risk for those whose natural cooling mechanisms are affected by aspects of their work. For example, it can affect those obliged to work while clothed in heavily-insulating personal protective equipment, those working in roof or similar spaces where humidity could become excessive, or those doing strenuous physical labour, especially in direct sunlight and away from sources of fresh water. Additional thought should be given to protecting these workers.

For those in the UK doing non-strenuous indoor work, high temperatures are typically more of an unpleasant inconvenience rather than a genuine health risk. It can help to stay in the shade, maximise ventilation, and wear lightweight, loose clothing to help perspiration evaporate and thereby provide its cooling effect. It is important to consume plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

A minority of people with significant pre-existing health conditions may be advised to take extra care by their medical professionals. Hot weather places a strain on the heart and lungs and for that reason the majority of serious illness caused by heat are respiratory or cardiovascular.  Older people and children are particularly at risk.

The Met Office advises of an increased chance that some heat-sensitive systems and equipment may fail, leading to power cuts and the loss of other services to some homes and businesses. Some delays to road, rail and air travel are possible, with potential for welfare issues for those who experience prolonged delays. Please give additional thought to staff (and students) who may be travelling for work or fieldtrips. Consider if their journeys are necessary and how they can access plenty of water and shade in case of delays.

In the event of a related or unrelated major incident affecting the University during this period, please give additional thought to if and how extreme weather might affect the University’s response.

General advice - Make sure you know what to do

For those working outdoors:

  • Schedule working to earlier and cooler times of the day where possible.
  • Consider reviewing the frequency of job rotation.
  • Plan more frequent breaks.
  • Stay hydrated, carry drinking water in vehicles or with work equipment.
  • Apply a high factor sun scream (>SFP 15), avoid exposed skin, and wear a hat with a brim.
  • Work in the shade if possible.
  • Remove protective clothing during breaks to encourage cooling.
  • 8. Recognise the symptoms of heat stress: inability to concentrate, heat rash, severe thirst,giddiness, nausea, fainting, muscle cramps.

For those of working indoors in warm spaces:

  • Minimise the time spent in hot environments, e.g. glass houses, kitchens, roof spaces.
  • If working in hot environments: plan more breaks and increase the frequency of job rotation.
  • Stay hydrated by carrying drinking water or know of the nearest supply.
  • Report heat stress to your line manager

For those of working in offices

  • Reduce heat build-up: turn off any unnecessary electrical equipment (esp. power adaptors) when not in use, set your monitor to sleep after no more than 1 5 mins to reduce power consumption, switch off lighting when not needed, draw blinds to limit solar input and prevent glare to computer monitors.
  • Increase ventilation: opening windows, open doors - fire doors must be shut when areas are unoccupied, or the fire alarm sounds, use fans provided - avoid trailing cables and trip hazards.
  • Stay hydrated: regular drinks of cool water and take breaks away from your computer workstation.
  • Try to keep your environment cool, closing blinds or curtains can help.

Other useful advice:

  • Try to keep your environment cool, closing blinds or curtains can help.
  • At night, keep your sleeping area well ventilated. Night cooling is important as it allows the body to recuperate.
  • Try to stay cool by taking cool showers or baths and/or sprinkle yourself several times a day with cold water.
  • Avoid too much exercise when very hot, which can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and watch for signs of heat stress - an early sign is fatigue. If you do go out for exercise or outdoors, try to avoid the hottest part of the day (11 am to 3 pm) and seek shade where possible.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but not alcohol, which dehydrates the body.
  • Try to eat as you normally would. Not eating properly may exacerbate health-related problems.
  • Keep your vehicle well ventilated to avoid drowsiness. Take plenty of water with you and have regular rest breaks.
  • Watch out for vulnerable colleagues and others on campus and check in with them regularly.
  • Avoid being in the sun for long stretches. Wear lightweight, light-coloured clothing, high factor sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Reapply an appropriate factor sun cream at regular intervals during the day. The UV index (the strength of the sun) can be high at many times of the year - it doesn't have to be hot. The UV index can be strong through cloud even when the sun isn't directly shining.
    JM, June 2022