Heat Awareness for Workers

Workers who work in hot environments indoors or outdoors, or even those engaged in strenuous physical activities, may be at risk for heat stress.

The different types of heat illness include: heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat rashes, and heat stroke. Heat can also increase workers’ risk of injuries, as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and may reduce brain function responsible for reasoning ability, creating additional hazards.

Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments indoors or outdoors, or even those engaged in strenuous physical activities may be at risk for heat stress. Occupational exposure to heat can result in injuries, disease, reduced productivity, and death.

Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses caused by heat stress, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat rashes, or death. Heat can also increase workers’ risk of injuries, as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and may reduce brain function responsible for reasoning ability, creating additional hazards.

Other heat injuries, such as burns, may occur as a result of contact with hot surfaces, steam, or fire. Those at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments, such as fire fighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners (particularly surface miners), boiler room workers, and factory workers.

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Heat Predictions for Summer

The National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) can help decision makers prepare for extreme heat events days, months, and years in the future.

Risk Factors for Heat Illness

Many outdoor workers are in good physical health, but several factors can increase their risk of suffering from heat illness:

  • high temperature and humidity
  • direct sunlight
  • limited air movement (no breeze)
  • moderate to heavy exertion
  • heavy personal protective equipment
  • dehydration
  • some medications
  • other sources of heat (furnaces, ovens, exhaust)

In some cases, heat-related illness can occur in temperatures as low as the 70s (°F).

Types of Heat Illness

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identifies the following five main types of heat illness:

1. Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is considered the most serious heat-related illness, occurring when the body can no longer regulate its temperature. The body temperature quickly rises and the ability cool off by sweating often fails. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability in the absence of emergency treatment.

  • Symptoms: Hot, dry skin; hallucinations; chills; throbbing headache; high body temperature; confusion/dizziness; slurred speech.
  • First Aid: Call 911 and notify supervisor; move affected worker to shaded area; take steps to cool the individual (spraying with water, fanning).

2. Heat Exhaustion: As a response to excessive loss of water and salt, the body may experience heat exhaustion. Those who are elderly or have high blood pressure are particularly vulnerable.

  • Symptoms: Heavy sweating; extreme weakness; dizziness/confusion; nausea; clammy skin; pale complexion; muscle cramps; slightly elevated body temperature; fast, shallow breathing.
  • First Aid: Have worker rest in a cool or shaded area; give worker plenty of water and have them take a cool bath, if possible.

3. Heat Syncope

Heat syncope is an episode of dizziness or fainting that can occur with prolonged standing or from suddenly standing from a sitting position. This can occur as a result of dehydration or a lack of acclimatization.

  • Symptoms: Light-headedness; dizziness; fainting.
  • First Aid: Have affected worker sit in a cool place once they feel symptoms, in addition to slowly drinking water or a sports beverage.

4. Heat Cramps

Heat cramps typically are a result of low salt levels in muscles as a result of excessive sweating. They also may be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

  • Symptoms: Muscle pain or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs.
  • First Aid: Stop activity and sit in a cool place; drink clear juice or a sports beverage; abstain from strenuous work for a few hours; seek medical attention if the worker has heart problems or the cramps don’t subside after one hour.

5. Heat Rash

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating.

  • Symptoms: Appears as a red cluster of pimples or small blisters; likely to occur on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts and in elbow creases.
  • First Aid: Keep worker in cooler, less humid environment; keep affected area(s) dry; use dusting powder, if available.

Heat Stress – Health and Safety Training

A heat stress training program should be in place for all who work in hot environments and their supervisors. Workers and supervisors should be trained about the prevention and first aid of heat-related illness before they begin work in a hot environment and before heat index levels go up.

Heat prevention training should be reinforced on hot days. Prevention of heat-related illnesses depends on early recognition of the signs and symptoms of impending heat-related illness and initiation of first aid and corrective procedures at the earliest possible moment.

OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Training Guide

  • A guide for employers to carry out heat safety training, with lesson plans (tailgate or toolbox talks).
  • Available in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF)

hest-stress-training-guide-osha

Summary

Many outdoor workers get uncomfortably hot during summer. Employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace – free from unsafe exposure to heat that can result in injuries, disease, reduced productivity, and death.

Heat Safety Resources for Worker and Employers

Supervisors: Preventing heat-related illness in your workers requires a commitment to monitoring daily temperatures, continual awareness of workers’ level of effort, and heat-illness prevention training.

Workers: Learn to recognize signs that you or your coworkers need to cool down. Be ready to seek help if you or your coworkers are disoriented, confused, or slurring speech.