May 15, 2011
By Sally Harvey CLT, CLP
Education and Labour Development Department

Sally HarveySoon enough, this cool spring weather will leave and the sweltering summer heat will arrive. Ontario’s real hot spells seldom last long enough for workers to acclimatize, so common sense and training are critical to prevention. Make sure you organize adequate training for your staff in advance of the heat wave season. Don’t get caught off guard. The sooner the better, and then repeat it in a safety tailgate talk as soon as the weather turns warm.

It is essentially impossible for an employer to protect his employees from heat stress without each employee learning to recognize the early stages and symptoms. That requires training.

If at all possible, it is recommended that workers learn to listen to their bodies, and understand and know the effects of their medication in extreme heat. They also must understand to alter their pace of work, take rest breaks and increase fluid intake in response to early symptoms they may experience, when heat stress is a risk. Make sure workers have access to at least 240 ml of fluid every 20 minutes. Supervisors will need to manage and adjust the pace of work and exposure.

Quick reference tool

There is a great heat stress reference tool available online. It contains a summary of heat stress-related disorders, causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention. Everyone should copy this easy to read summary to have on site, in case there are questions about heat stress.

For more information on how to guide workers to properly cope with heat stress and a description of heat stress disorders and symptoms and preventative training tools, go to

To view an excellent humidex-based heat response document with four pages of information and a plan to adapt to your workplace, go to

A first-hand case of heat stress

My personal experience provides a good example of heat stress. At a Skills Canada – Ontario competition, we had 36 exceptional secondary school students competing in teams of two in the construction of a garden. They had a specific time period to complete the task.

This was the first year that the competition was held outdoors, although the area was completely covered by a massive tent. Skills Canada – Ontario is completely committed to providing jugs of drinking water for all of the competitors. Interestingly, one of the competitors, keen to do well and a bit nervous by the entire process, received a small hand injury. Although it was minor, the injury led to a sequence of events that could have easily been avoided.

The student was showing symptoms of shock and was treated by the onsite First Aid team. As per contest rules, a competitor must be escorted to washrooms. Our injured student wanted to wash his hands, intending to return to the competition. While I waited, I noticed that time spent in the washroom was not very long. On the way back to the competition site, the student didn’t look well, and was not steady on his feet. We laid him down, asking if he had urinated that day. He admitted that he had not. He also admitted to not having anything to drink.

This excited and engaged young person was so focused on doing well at the competition, that he felt if he didn’t drink, then he would not need to take time to use the washroom. He also felt that because he was working under the tent, he didn’t need to worry about the sun. Well, it did not quite work that way.

After he drank about eight glasses of water, and ate, he still was unable to return to help his teammate complete the competition. He spent the rest of the day in the First Aid station trying to re-hydrate. His teammate decided to complete the project, despite knowing that they were disqualified.

The organizers went to every team thereafter to make sure this would not happen again. After this, water bottles were re-filled and bathroom breaks requested. Luckily, our patient will return to compete this year.

I know that youth are not unique when it comes to ignoring messages from one’s body and understanding its needs. The landscape industry is certainly on the radar of the Ministry of Labour, particularly with the new and young worker enforcement blitzes. These unexpected spot checks will include questions to staff about your heat stress training and prevention strategies. New and young workers are considered vulnerable, as they try so hard to impress, and neglect simple principles. Get your plan in place and make sure you communicate it and train the workers. All staff who work in the landscape horticulture industry must be properly trained and have a solid awareness of heat-related risks and prevention strategies.

Every work site must provide access to drinking water. As our student found out, heat stress can even take place on a cloudy day.

Wearing shorts in the workplace

I am asked often by employers and employees if shorts are permitted in the landscape workplace. Yes they are, as long as they do not pose risk for injury or disease. Employers protect yourselves and staff by setting a policy that makes sense. Some firms allow shorts, but require that all staff have an extra pair of pants in case a task may require them. Some firms set policy that pants are required on the job – and no shorts are allowed. I know for me, when I am on a job site on a warm summer day, shorts are it. I wear dry-fit pants that I can zip off the leggings to create shorts, or zip the legs back on to return to pants.

The bottom line: Use common sense to prevent risk to your staff.
Contact Sally Harvey should you have any questions at