Individual susceptibility to heat-related illness can vary widely between workers. Workers become gradually acclimatized when exposed to hot conditions for several weeks. Physical changes in blood vessels and in sweating occur to dissipate heat more effectively. When the heat index is high, special precautions are needed to protect un-acclimatized workers while they adjust, particularly on the first few days of the job.
Why Workers Must Be Acclimatized1
Humans are, to a large extent, capable of adjusting to the heat. Much of this adjustment to heat, under normal circumstances, usually takes about 5 to 7 days, during which time the body will undergo a series of changes that will make continued exposure to heat more endurable. However, it may take up to several weeks for the body to fully acclimatize.
On the first day of work in a hot environment, the body temperature, pulse rate, and general discomfort will be higher. With each succeeding daily exposure, all of these responses will gradually decrease, while the sweat rate will increase. When the body becomes acclimatized to the heat, the worker will find it possible to perform work with less strain and distress.
Gradual exposure to heat gives the body time to become accustomed to higher environmental temperatures. Heat disorders in general are more likely to occur among workers who have not been given time to adjust to working in the heat or among workers who have been away from hot environments and who have gotten accustomed to lower temperatures. Hot weather conditions of the summer are likely to affect the worker who is not acclimatized to heat. Likewise, workers who return to work after a leisurely vacation or extended illness may be affected by the heat in the work environment. Whenever such circumstances occur, the worker should be gradually reacclimatized to the hot environment.
People who have not worked in hot weather for a week or more need time for their bodies to adjust. They need to take more breaks and not do too much strenuous work during their first weeks on the job.
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