Personal protective equipment and heat: risk of heat stress
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in warm/hot environments increases the risk of heat stress. This occurs when the body is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. Heat stress can cause heat exhaustion and lead to heat stroke if the person is unable to cool down.
Measures to control the temperature of clinical environments and enable staff to make behavioural adaptations to stay cool and well hydrated should be made. Staff may require more frequent breaks and the frequency of PPE changes may increase, with a resulting increase in demand.
Plan now for the summer:
- Assess the risk of overheating in your workplace and consider appropriate control measures to implement.
- Consider collective control measures first (eg remove or reduce the sources of heat where possible).
- Consult the Heatwave Plan for England.
- Sign up to receive PHE/Met Office heat-health alerts so that you know when high temperatures are forecast
Ensure that staff are aware of the risk of heat stress when wearing PPE and know how to reduce their risk:
- Satisfy yourself that there is a cascade in place to ensure that frontline staff receive the alerts.
Staff working in warm/hot conditions should follow the advice:
- Take regular breaks, find somewhere cool if you can.
- Make sure you are hydrated (checking your urine is an easy way of keeping an eye on your hydration levels – dark or strong-smelling urine is a sign that you should drink more fluids).
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stress and dehydration (thirst, dry mouth, dark or strong-smelling urine, urinating infrequently or in small amounts, inability to concentrate, muscle cramps, fainting). Don’t wait until you start to feel unwell before you take a break.
- Use a buddy system with your team to look out for the signs of heat stress (eg confusion, looking pale or clammy, fast breathing) in each other.
- Between shifts, try to stay cool as this will give your body a chance to recover.