Acclimation, or acclimatization is so much more than just throwing your employee out in the heat and waiting for him or her to toughen up. It is a slow process that actually triggers chemical changes in the body, and it can be very dangerous if skipped or rushed.
Our bodies are designed to work perfectly in whatever environment we are in - that's why people living in high altitudes have adapted to using less oxygen for their everyday tasks since less oxygen is available for them. People who live or work in high heat environments can only do so comfortably because their body has adapted to release heat more quickly and retain electrolytes more efficiently. Employees who are not used to working in high heat situations MUST be acclimated first or their body will not be as efficient and heat illness will follow.
Heat acclimatization requires about two weeks of regular work for at least two hours per day in the heat. During this time, employees must be closely supervised by a supervisor to ensure that:
- Employees are doing the heaviest work of the day during cooler hours.
- The employee is in the heat for at least two hours each day.
- Employees build their intensity level up gradually over the two week period.
- Employees are drinking enough water (about one quart of water per hour).
- Employees who are not yet acclimated are taking more frequent shade breaks.
After successful acclimatization, the body will react quite differently to high heat situations (although this wont last forever, it takes about half the time to de-acclimate as it does to acclimate). Signs of successful acclimation are:
- Reduced core temperature
- Increased sweating
- Decreased time between starting work and starting to sweat
- Earlier blood flow to the skin
- Lower body heat production
- Lower heart rate
- Increased thirst
- Reduced salt and electrolyte loss during sweat and urination
There are many types of heat illnesses, and because they can be deadly it is very important to take heat acclimatization seriously. By protecting your employees you are protecting the most valuable asset to your company.
To learn about California's heat illness policies, click here. To ask a safety professional yourself for more information regarding heat illness prevention, call (800) 734-3574 between the hours of 8am and 5pm Pacific Standard Time or email firstname.lastname@example.org.