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Heat stroke/hypothermia when working in heat/cold

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

extreme-temperaturesUnder normal circumstances, the human body has the ability to regulate its own temperature. However, working at extremes of heat or cold can make it difficult for the body to keep its temperature constant at around 37°C (depending on where the measurement is taken), which can lead to cold or heat-related medical conditions. Other factors also come into play such as the level of humidity, the level of physical activity, the clothing worn by workers, as well as personal factors such as a person’s age, weight, level of fitness, state of health, medications, etc.

Excessive exposure to heat (heat stress) can lead to heat exhaustion and fainting, which can impede a person’s ability to work. A more serious heat-related condition is heat stroke, which can be fatal. Those at particular risk include kitchen/factory staff, or those who work outdoors in hot conditions (particularly those whose jobs involve physical exertion).

Many people work in cold environments such as those who work in food handling (e.g. cold storage facilities) or those who do outdoor work during cold weather. Excessive exposure to the cold can lead to cold stress, which can cause frostbite. The most serious medical condition caused by the cold is hypothermia, which occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, and can cause death if not brought under control.

People suffering from hypothermia or heat stroke often aren’t aware that there is anything wrong, so it is often up to co-workers to spot the signs and ensure that something is done to control the person’s body temperature. Some warning signs to look out for include:

  • Hypothermia: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, euphoria or shivering.
  • Heat stroke: sudden and severe fatigue, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness.

Working in cold or hot temperatures may lead to an increase in accidents, illness, job stress, job dissatisfaction, and a decrease in productivity. Employers/managers have a duty of care towards workers and are bound by various pieces of legislation to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace (Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992) and make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their workers and take action where necessary and reasonably practicable (Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999).

Looking for advice about work health issues? Take a look at the Fit for Work website, or call our free advice line on 0800 032 6235.


  1. Adrian Buda

    I went out camping 2 days ago and slept in the tent. It got below freezing at night and I’ve been dealing with dizziness ever since. Upon my research I found that the blood vessels leading to my brain might have tightened to prevent hypothermia.

    It is not as severe as to prevent me from walking or functioning normally but still bothering.
    Any way to fix it?

    • Fit for Work team

      There are many causes of dizziness and it is important that this is investigated if it continues. Dizziness can be present in mild or moderate hypothermia – but if you managed to remain warm in the tent despite the outside temperature (with warm clothing and bedding) and did not suffer any general symptoms of hypothermia, it is less likely that this is the cause of your symptoms. Mild hypothermia also usually reverses very effectively when the body temperature returns to normal. You should see your GP if your symptoms continue.

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Lorie,
      Thank you for your enquiry. The symptoms of heat stoke are listed below. It is quite probable that you were very hot and the cooling effect was your body trying to sweat and cool itself.
      – tiredness and weakness
      – feeling faint or dizzy
      – a decrease in blood pressure
      – a headache
      – muscle cramps
      – feeling and being sick
      – heavy sweating
      – intense thirst
      – a fast pulse
      – urinating less often and having much darker urine than usual
      Generally, if you can place yourself somewhere cool, you will start to feel better in around 30 minutes. You should also take care in the sun as sun burn can cause further health problems.
      The Fit for Work team

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