Heat Stress Prevention: Keeping Workers Safe in the Summer

Workplace heat stress

Heat stress prevention in the workplace is highly important to keep your employees safe in hot and extreme environments. Extreme heat stress refers to several conditions affecting the body that cause stress. Some heat-related diseases have different symptoms and treatments. These symptoms are intense sweating, nausea, or dizziness, which may be stopped or even collapsed. Among the highest potential victims of heat illness are elderly people, children, and those who have medical problems like cardiovascular disease. Even seasoned athletes are vulnerable to heat illness when they are involved in vigorous activity during warm weather.

At-risk Employees

Some workers may be suffering from heat problems. Employees in the United States who suffer from a heart attack, lung condition, or take drugs have a greater risk of experiencing heat stress. Diet pills and sedative medications can increase heat stress and blood pressure. The employee may need between 2 and 3 weeks before he gets used to this temperature environment. Then, the acclimations and the preventing heat related illness and exhaustion will disappear after just one week of avoiding the above heat index. Workers should avoid heat stress after returning from vacation and starting new jobs during this first season of heat waves.

Staying Hydrated

One of the most important ways to prevent heat stress is by staying hydrated with hydrating products. When working outside in the heat, the body loses fluids through sweating. It is important to replenish these fluids by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Employers should encourage workers to take frequent water breaks and provide access to cool drinking water on the job site. Additionally, workers in hot environments should avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, as these can actually cause dehydration.

Wearing Appropriate Clothing

Another important factor in preventing heat stress is wearing appropriate clothing. Workers should wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing that allows air to circulate around the body. Clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton can prevent heat illness and also help keep workers cool. Additionally, hats and sunglasses can provide protection from the sun and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Taking Breaks in the Shade

Finally, it is important to take breaks in the shade to prevent heat stress. Employees should refrain from spending prolonged periods of time in the sun's rays and take frequent breaks in a shaded area. The use of umbrellas or other portable shade devices for rest breaks should be encouraged by employers or provided by the employer. By taking breaks in the shade, you can lower your body's temperature and avoid getting sick from the heat.

Heat-Related Illnesses

  • Heat stroke

    Symptoms include throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, body temperature above 103°F, hot, red, dry or damp skin, rapid and strong pulse, fainting, loss of consciousness. First Aid Response: Call 911 or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency.
  • Heat exhaustion

    Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness or tiredness, cool, pale, clammy skin; fast, weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, fainting. First Aid Response: Move person to a cooler environment, preferably a well air conditioned room. Loosen clothing.
  • Heat cramps

    Symptoms include painful muscle cramps and spasms usually in legs and abdomen and Heavy sweating. First Aid Responses: Apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage to relieve spasm.
  • Heat syncope

    Symptoms of heat syncope include fainting (short duration), dizziness, light-headedness from standing too long or suddenly rising from a sitting or lying position. First Aid Response: sit or lie down in a cool place, slowly drink water, clear juice, or a sports drink.
  • Heat rash

    Symptoms of heat rash include red clusters of pimples or small blisters, Usually appears on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases. First Aid Response: work in a cooler, less humid environment, if possible, keep the rash area dry, apply powder to increase comfort, don’t use ointments and creams.
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown)

    Symptoms include: muscle cramps/pain, abnormally dark (tea or cola-colored) urine, weakness, exercise intolerance, asymptomatic. First Aid Response: stop activity, drink more liquids (water preferred), seek immediate care at the nearest medical facility, ask to be checked for rhabdomyolysis (i.e., blood sample analyzed for creatine kinase).

Adjust Work Schedules

Employers should consider adjusting work schedules to avoid the hottest parts of the day. This may mean starting work earlier in the morning or ending work later in the evening. By avoiding the hottest parts of the day, workers can reduce their exposure to heat and prevent heat-related illnesses.

Heat illness prevention

  • Take extra precautions to protect new workers.

  • Train supervisors and workers to control and recognize heat hazards.

  • Determine, for each worker throughout each workday, whether total heat stress is too high, both from the conditions of that day and recognizing carryover effect possibilities.

  • Implement engineering and administrative controls to reduce heat stress.

  • Provide sufficient rest, shade, and fluids.

First Aid

  • Have worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area

  • Give worker plenty of water or other cool beverages to drink

  • Cool worker with cold compresses/ice packs

  • Call 911 if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.

  • Do not return to work that day

OSHA Regulations to Prevent Heat Stress in the Workplace

Employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm to employees" under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Courts have interpreted OSHA's general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer omits or permits. Heat-related dangers that are likely to cause death or serious bodily injury are included.

Frequently Asked About Heat Stress Prevention

Q: What is Heat Stress?

A: Heat stress occurs when the body cannot get rid of excess heat. When this happens, the body's core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. As the body continues to store heat, the person begins to lose concentration, has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often fainting and even death if the person is not cooled down.

Q: Why is heat stress prevention important?

A: Heat-related illness occurs when the body becomes dehydrated and is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. This can lead to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening medical emergency. Prevention is the best way to avoid heatstroke.