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Extreme heat could put Okanagan workers at risk

Click to play video: 'Extreme heat putting Okanagan workers at risk' Extreme heat putting Okanagan workers at risk
Extreme heat putting Okanagan workers at risk – Jul 28, 2022

It’s busy season for growers in the Okanagan but with the extreme heat, it could put workers at risk for heat-related illnesses.

The BC Fruit Growers Association says many orchards are taking steps to ensure their workers are safe.

“Getting away from that intense heat right now is number one and also we tell growers and workers to hydrate all of the common things that you would understand,” said BC Fruit Growers’ Association general manager Glen Lucas.

“We tell workers and growers to use the buddy system, check on each other and monitor, make sure there’s plenty of water available and if there are any symptoms get the person cooled down right away.”

With last year’s heat dome, WorkSafeBC says they saw a 180-per cent increase in heat stress-related claims over the previous three-year average.

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Read more: Okanagan residents advised to take precautions with high heat in forecast

“Last year in 2021, 115 claims were received by WorkSafe from many different industries across the province. Each of the previous three years we’ve had about 40 claims received so this is a significant increase,” said WorkSafeBC Prevention Field Services senior manager Suzana Prpic.

“A large portion of those, 35 per cent, were for indoor claims and that is something new that we are watching closely.”

Although some workers may be used to the Okanagan heat, Prpic says workers still need to adjust to the climate.

“Workers in Kelowna are climatized to that but if somebody’s new to the role, new to a part of the Interior where it’s generally warmer, it takes a few days to get used to working in that higher heat,” said Prpic.

Employers are required to conduct heat stress assessments to make sure that plans are in place to reduce heat stress year-round.

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“Especially when conditions are as they are right now throughout the province. And to do that before the heat begins and before the workday begins,” said Prpic.

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“Employers also have to make sure that employees are trained of what can happen in terms of increased heat and what the early symptoms are so that proper planning can occur.”

One recommendation to reduce the risk of heat stress is to adjust when and where the work is happening.

“Employers, employees on farms, who naturally work in the outdoors are used to that. But we do shift the work earlier in the day and I’ve even heard of growers and workers working during the nighttime period with headlamps to pick,” said Lucas.

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