From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Too Hot to Be Productive?

Can the weather really affect productivity? It can when the heat outside impacts the work at hand.

When temperatures rise, almost every work environment outside of the climate controlled facility sees some sort of temperature change, and that can leave workers exposed to extreme temperatures and the challenge of working when it’s hot.

It’s not just warm-climate workers who are impacted by working in the heat. In fact, in a recent report on hot-weather work in Occupational Hazards, experts noted that workers who regularly work in the heat tend to acclimate to the summer’s temperatures. It’s the workers in cooler climates who, when faced with a sudden hot spell, may be more impacted by the heat.

Environmental comfort is a component of ergonomics — just like a chair should fit a worker, so should the temperature. When a worker’s internal body temperature rises because of a hot work environment, the body naturally attempts to regulate its temperature through increased blood circulation and ultimately through sweat. But when external conditions keep the body from cooling down, the body still continues to try to cool down, expending more energy in its attempts.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), when the heat rises, “relatively less [blood] goes to the active muscles, the brain, and other internal organs; strength declines; and fatigue occurs sooner than it would otherwise. Alertness and mental capacity also may be affected. Workers who must perform delicate or detailed work may find their accuracy suffering, and others may find their comprehension and retention of information lowered.” For a worker, that can mean reduced productivity, a tougher time tackling simple tasks and an increase in injuries.

While the best response to hot working environments is to remove the heat from the workplace through ventilation or heat shields, in some jobs and industries this simply can’t be done. When summer’s heat becomes a fact of the job, other solutions can be implemented to mitigate the impact of the heat including alternating heavy work with light work or an automated task to provide some relief, or even implementing work-rest schedules. Additionally, the following suggestions may also make working in the heat more bearable:

What workers can do:

  • Replace lost water regularly throughout the work day.
  • Perform strenuous work during the coolest times of day; reserve lighter tasks for high heat periods.
  • Wear lightweight, breathable fabrics, ensuring that the clothing doesn’t prohibit sweat evaporation.

What employers can do:

  • Increase airflow through fans and windows.
  • Ensure uniforms are made of breathable, lightweight materials that permit cooling.
  • Slowly acclimate workers to the heat, if possible.
  • Extend rest periods to give workers adequate time to cool off.
  • Provide a cool rest area nearby.
  • Teach employees to recognize the signs of heat stress or exhaustion.

Sources: Occupational Hazards; The Ergonomics Report