Developing an Employee Heat Stress Prevention Program

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.
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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.

Illness Symptoms First Aid*
Heat stroke
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature
  • Call 911

While waiting for help:

  • Place worker in shady, cool area
  • Loosen clothing, remove outer clothing
  • Fan air on worker; cold packs in armpits
  • Wet worker with cool water; apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available
  • Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible
  • Stay with worker until help arrives
Heat exhaustion
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Fast heart beat
  • 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
  • Take to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.
  • Do not return to work that day
Heat cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain
  • Usually in abdomen, arms, or legs
  • Have worker rest in shady, cool area
  • Worker should drink water or other cool beverages
  • Wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work
  • Have worker seek medical attention if cramps don’t go away
Heat rash
  • Clusters of red bumps on skin
  • Often appears on neck, upper chest, folds of skin
  • Try to work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible
  • Keep the affected area dry
* 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Provide plenty of cool, potable water for all employees on site, and encourage them to drink it.
  4. 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

For more information about heat-related illnesses:

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