Protect your workers from the threats of extreme heat

Dozens of workers die each year, and thousands more become sick while working in extreme heat or humidity, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration .

If your employees must work in hot environments, it’s important to know the risks and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and how you can prevent them.

Know the types of heat stress

There are a number of different types of heat-related illnesses, which range in severity. They include:

  • Heat cramps
    Painful muscle spasms most likely in the arms, legs and abdominal area. Heat cramps are caused by sweating during strenuous activity and failing to replace the fluids and salt lost from sweating.
  • Heat exhaustion
    Symptoms include profuse sweating, headaches, extreme weakness or fatigue, dizziness, fast pulse, rapid breathing and nausea or vomiting.
  • Heat or sun stroke
    Symptoms include a very high body temperature (104 degrees F or higher); mental confusion, delirium or hallucinations; rapid breathing and pulse; hot, dry, red or mottled skin; convulsions; and loss of consciousness. Seek medical help immediately and keep the person cool with fans, ice and water until help arrives.

Prevent heat-related illness among your employees

OSHA recommends that employers with workers exposed to high temperatures:

  • Provide employees with water, shade and opportunities to rest
  • Allow workers to gradually acclimate to working in high heat
  • Plan for heat-related emergencies
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness

Note that workers who are overweight, diabetic or on certain medications can be more at risk for heat-related illness.

Educate employees on how to prevent heat-related illness

Employees have a role to play in protecting themselves from heat-related illness. Educate your employees on prevention by telling them to:

  • Adjust yourself to the heat through short exposure periods followed by longer exposure until your body is acclimated to the heat. It may take 14 days or longer.
  • Drink lots of liquid to replenish the fluid that your body is losing through sweating. Drink water to stay hydrated (about 1 cup every 15 minutes), and electrolyte drinks (sports drinks) to replace salt. A 3:1 ratio of sports drinks to water is commonly recommended. Don’t wait to drink until you’re thirsty, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
  • Do not ignore possible symptoms of heat stress. If your muscles cramp or if you feel very hot, dizzy or nauseous, then stop, hydrate, rest and cool off in the shade or air-conditioned area.
  • Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothes. Cotton breathes better than synthetic fabrics.
  • Schedule work activities during the coolest parts of the day.
  • Take the time to rest and cool down.
  • Report symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself or coworkers immediately.

You or your supervisors can use SFM's 5-minute solutions training talk on heat stress as a guide to talk with employees.

Use heat safety app to identify dangerous conditions

OSHA and the National Institute for Safety and Health have created a free heat safety mobile app to make employers and workers aware of whether the heat index in their area creates a risk for heat-related illness.

The app also provides recommendations for preventing heat stress based on the risk level.

Learn more about preventing heat-related illness among employees

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration offer a number of resources that can help you protect your employees from heat stress, including:

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