We all know summer is coming. But how prepared is your organisation for the heat? In general, we are much better at dealing with what we expect to see in the UK – typically, that means lots of rain!

You might not think that ‘heat stress’ would be a major issue in the UK. After all, we are not known for our hot and sunny climate. Some industry sectors take a very proactive stance in addressing the main issues before they become a problem.

In this article, we take a closer look at the advice provided by the Track Safety Alliance’s (TSA) Prep4 Summer campaign on the railway’s infrastructure. When working in temperatures in the mid-20s degrees Celsius (°C) and beyond, the body can start to feel the effects, especially when wearing essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Heat stress info cards. © TSA

What is heat stress?

Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing worn while working may lead to heat stress.

How does the body react to heat?

The body reacts to heat by increasing the blood flow to the skin’s surface, and by sweating. This results in cooling, as sweat evaporates from the body’s surface, and heat is carried to the surface of the body from within by the increased blood flow. Heat can also be lost by radiation and convection from the body’s surface.

Tips to avoid heat stress

• Hydrate yourself! Remember to drink plenty of water (1.5-2 litres a day)

• Use sunscreen on exposed skin to protect it

• Watch your workload. Be careful not to overdo it as heat can lead to increased fatigue If you can, share the load on-site or in the office

• Wear cooling workwear

• Wear suitable hi-visibility clothing

• Rest in the shade if possible

• Monitor your sleep. It may be affected by the heat and returning from holidays

Hydration

Why?

Your body is nearly two-thirds water, so it is really important that you consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. It’s all too easy to forget this. If you don’t get enough fluid, you may feel tired, get headaches and not perform at your best.Listen to your body’s needs.

How much?

This can depend on factors such as weather, physical exercise and your age. However, European recommendations suggest 1.6 litres of fluid per day for women, and 2 litres of fluid per day for men.

Choosing your drink

Be aware of what you are drinking. Although all drinks provide water and some also contain essential vitamins and minerals, they may also provide energy which will contribute to your daily calorie intake. Drinks such as energy drinks are not good for rehydrating your body. They may provide a short-term energy boost, but will not give you the amount of water your body needs in order to rehydrate.

Shaded rest

The Met Office recorded the highest temperature of 38.5°C in England back in 2003. Find a spot in the shade when the temperature starts to creep up.

• Shaded rest is essential during peak summer. It is a responsibility of both employer and employee

• Shaded rest allows for a workforce to rest, hydrate and cool down

• Clothing to help with summer heat can be as simple as a cooling towel or cooling vest.

The TSA and partners are launching an awareness campaign to share best practice. This will ensure workers have the knowledge and understanding to recognise the symptoms of heat stress and alleviate its effects.

Heat stress reports made to CIRAS

CIRAS starts to take health and safety reports on the effects of heat from around May onwards. Often the reports are about uncomfortable working conditions due to the heat. For example, a frequent topic over the years has been the air-conditioning on trains and buses, and also in signalling and control centres.

Greenhouse effect

A train driver reported ineffective air conditioning systems that only blow out hot air. This left drivers feeling hot, bothered, and fatigued whilst driving. During the summer in the UK, with temperatures reaching almost 30°C, the large, glass windows on the units created a ‘greenhouse effect’ in the cab. Although the driving cabs had side windows, once opened it was difficult for the drivers to hear the safety systems inside the cab. This could have led to important safety information being lost.

10 hours in 40°C

A bus driver reported a lack of air conditioning in the drivers’ cabs. Buses were fitted with air conditioning units but this was not working sufficiently on older models. During the summer months, temperatures could exceed 40°C in the drivers’ cabs. This led to an unpleasant and uncomfortable working environment for drivers. They were spending up to 10 hours a day in the cab. This could impact the drivers health and lead to a road traffic incident.

If you have similar concerns, do your best to raise them as early as possible before it becomes an issue!