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Heat Stress


Prevention is key

If you work outside everyday, it is easy to forget how quickly the elements can cause you harm. Under OSHA's General Duty Clause, employers should maintain an environment free from hazards that may cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Heat is one of these hazards. In 2014, there were 2,630 cases of work-related heat illness and 18 deaths from heat stroke. In situations like these, it's as the old saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Read further to learn how to prevent costly injury and downtime.
Types of heat illness
Heat Rash, also known as Prickly Heat, is a common heat illness that appears as a cluster of red bumps on the skin. It is typically found on the neck, chest or other areas where sweat is not able to evaporate because clothing is too restrictive. It usually disappears after the affected area is allowed to cool and dry.

Heat Cramps can happen during or after physical exertion when sweating creates an imbalance of electrolytes. They typically affect the most tired muscles that you work with, such as the arms, legs and abdominal muscles. Symptoms usually subside with rest and by drinking water and eating a snack and/or electrolyte drink, such as Sqwincher or Gatorade.

Heat Exhaustion occurs when you lose an excessive amount of water and salt through sweat. Some symptoms include dizziness, headache, heavy sweating, irritability, nausea, thirst and weakness. Most typically respond quickly to treatment, but symptoms should never be ignored as they often precede heat stroke.

Heat Stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body is unable to regulate body temperature. Some symptoms include confusion, altered mental status, loss of consciousness, seizures, high body temperature and hot, dry skin. If someone is showing signs of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Call 911.

Visit the CDC's Heat Illness page to learn more about symptoms and first aid measures.
How to prevent heat illness
If workers are exposed to high temperatures, then a complete heat illness prevention program should be in place. Here's how:
  • Designate a person to oversee the heat illness prevention program.
  • Identify hazards of working in high temperatures and monitor weather conditions.
  • Provide workers with potable water, rest and a shaded area. Employees should drink about one cup of water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty.
  • Allow workers to acclimatize to heat. Most cases of heat exhaustion or heat stroke occur with employees who are not used to working in hot and humid conditions.
  • Modify work schedules to reduce exposure to high temperatures. Use work/rest cycles and schedule more strenuous work during cooler parts of the day.
  • Train workers about heat illness and how to prevent and respond to it.
  • Monitor workers for symptoms of heat illness.
  • Ensure that supervisors and workers know what to do in the case of an emergency.
Learn more from OSHA's fact sheet here.
Heat Index Guide
The Heat Index combines relative humidity with the actual air temperature to provide a value for how hot it actually feels outside. This is important because bodies cool through sweating, which becomes less effective as relative humidity increases.


Other Resources

OSHA's Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness provides educational and training materials for employers on how to prevent and respond to heat illness. Click here to learn more.
Heat Stress Prevention Products