With temperatures soaring, dental nurses are advised to take note of government advice on how to stay safe when wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

As the Met Office issued a hot weather warning, with some parts of the country expected to reach as high as 34C (93.2F) today (Thursday), the Society of British Dental Nurses (SBDN) is signposting dental nurses to advice issued by Public Health England on how to stay safe while wearing PPE in a heatwave.

Wearing PPE in warm/hot environments increases the risk of heat stress. This occurs when the body is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature.

Heat stress can cause heat exhaustion and lead to heat stroke if the person is unable to cool down.

As well as being urged to take breaks, tips also include ensuring they stay hydrated to avoid heat-related illness.

The SBDN’s patron, Fiona Ellwood, said: ‘Many dental nurses are finding the extra PPE can be extremely uncomfortable and cause dehydration – particularly in this heat. They must be allowed the time to take breaks and drink water to rehydrate and cut down on the risk of heat stress.’

The alert issued by Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive states: ‘Measures to control the temperature of clinical environments and enable staff to make behavioural adaptations to stay cool and well hydrated should be made. Staff may require more frequent breaks and the frequency of PPE changes may increase, with a resulting increase in demand.’

Practice owners are advised to plan now for the coming summer months by:

  • Assessing the risk of overheating in your workplace and consider appropriate control measures to implement
  • Considering collective control measures first (e.g. remove or reduce the sources of heat where possible).
  • Consulting the Heatwave Plan for England (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/heatwave-plan-for-england)
  • Signing up to receive the PHE/Met Office heat-health alerts so that you know when high temperatures are forecast (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/heat-health/?tab=heatHealth&season=normal)
  • Ensuring that staff are aware of the risk of heat stress when wearing PPE and know how to reduce their risk
  • Satisfying yourself that there is a cascade in place to ensure that frontline staff receive the alerts.

How to keep cool in PPE

Staff working in warm/hot conditions should follow the advice:

  • Take regular breaks, find somewhere cool if you can
  • Make sure you are hydrated (checking your urine is an easy way of keeping an eye on your hydration levels – dark or strong-smelling urine is a sign that you should drink more fluids)
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stress and dehydration (thirst, dry mouth, dark or strong-smelling urine, urinating infrequently or in small amounts, inability to concentrate, muscle cramps, fainting). Don’t wait until you start to feel unwell before you take a break
  • Use a buddy system with your team to look out for the signs of heat stress (e.g. confusion, looking pale or clammy, fast breathing) in each other
  • Between shifts, try to stay cool as this will give your body a chance to recover.