Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. Understanding the potential harm caused by working in high temperatures is only the first step when it comes to protecting employees.
The most vital step in protecting workers is to develop a Heat Stress Prevention Program for your company. This starts with inspecting your workplace with a focus on location, time of year, geography, and risk factors and then building a comprehensive program around the results.
Heat-Related Illnesses and First Aid
Training workers on how to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses is a very important aspect of a Heat Stress Prevention Program:
- Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately.
- Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.
- Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.
- Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.
- Know Your Rights! Under federal law, you are entitled to a safe workplace.
- Training provides details on OSHA, workplace hazards, workers’ legal rights, employer responsibilities, and how to file a complaint. Required by some states and companies in order to start employment.
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The chart below shows symptoms and first aid measures to take if a worker shows signs of a heat-related illness.
While waiting for help:
|* Remember, if you are not a medical professional, use this information as a guide only to help workers in need.|
Four Basics of a Heat Stress Worker Program
A heat stress worker program is generally broken down into four basic focus points, which are then expanded based on your workplace’s unique characteristics and the work being performed:
- Evaluate a particular date to determine whether heat stress is an issue by looking at temperature and humidity levels. Use this information to implement the appropriate controls and procedures to reduce risks.
- Define the essential, company-wide provisions to be implemented in order to reduce the risks of heat-related illnesses, and when they will be implemented. Some examples of provisions can include acclimatization programs, a work/rest rotation schedule, or providing shaded, cool areas for rest.
- Provide plenty of cool, potable water for all employees on site, and encourage them to drink it.
- Train workers on how to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and what steps should be taken to prevent them. Workers should also know what to do in the event they or another worker are showing signs of heat stress.
Additional Heat Related Illness Guidance/Resources
- Planning Checklists (PDF)
- Training Workers (PDF)
- Preparing For and Responding to Heat-Related Emergencies (PDF)
- About Work/Rest Schedules (PDF)
- Estimating Work Rates or Loads (PDF)
- Acclimatizing Workers (PDF)
- Monitoring Workers at Risk of Heat-Related Illness (PDF)
- All-in-One (PDF)
For more information about heat-related illnesses:
- OSHA Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers
- OSHA Technical Manual (OTM) Chapter – Heat Stress. OSHA Directive TED 01-00-015 [TED 1-0.15A], (September 15, 2017). Includes useful sections on heat illness, prevention programs, assessment and screening for heat stress in the workplace.
- Heat Illness. National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus. Includes information in multiple languages.
- Heat: A Major Killer. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service. Links to landing page with NWS’s heat index description and chart.