Every year, thousands of workers become sick from heat exposure, and some cases are fatal. More than half of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in the heat because the body needs to gradually build a tolerance, known as heat acclimatization.
Heat-related illness can affect workers in many industries, at both indoor or outdoor worksites. Some risk factors include outdoor work in warm weather, heat sources such as ovens or hot tar, strenuous physical activity, and heavy or non-breathable work clothes.
Employers should plan ahead and train workers about personal factors that can make them more susceptible to heat illness. These factors include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and level of physical fitness. Other medical conditions can also increase risks. When in doubt, workers should talk to their healthcare provider about whether they can work safely in the heat.
Employers should create a written heat illness prevention plan. Elements to consider include:
Heat conditions can change rapidly. A person at the worksite should be responsible for monitoring conditions and implementing the heat plan throughout the workday. That person might also be responsible for bringing a shelter to create shade, if needed, and for ensuring a supply of cool drinking water.
Training should cover identifying and controlling heat hazards, recognizing early symptoms of heat stress, providing first aid for heat-related illnesses, and contacting emergency medical services when needed.
Workers’ bodies will make adjustments to cope with heat. The heart rate increases, and sweating will increase. Eventually, skin temperature and core body temperature rise. Workers can self-monitor these responses. Some level of sweating may be expected, of course, but contributes to dehydration.
Heart rate is easy to measure, and workers can be trained to count their pulse. Heart rate monitor wristwatches are also available. Employees might also monitor their body temperature using thermometers. This can give the worker an early warning of overheating.
If you need more information about heat stress, check out the Topic link in Safety Management Suite. You’ll find links to OSHA guidance, written plans, training programs and resources, and other information. The site has hundreds of other topics as well, grouping all the information you need in one location.