Are You and Other Workers Ready for the Summer Heat?

Every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat, and some even die. But your people don’t have to suffer. These illnesses and deaths are preventable.

With summer just around the corner and heat and humidity on the rise, many employers and workers need to start thinking about and planning to prevent employee heat-related illness.

Although OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard that covers working in hot conditions, under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, the company has a duty to protect their workers from recognized serious hazards in the workplace, including heat-related hazards.

OSHA has come out with a new Heat Safety App for your smart phone. This App is for your safety during those hot summer days. In this App you can enter in the temperature and humidity, which the App will then calculate informing you what the heat index is, what the precautions are and how much water you should be drinking. To download this App search OSHA Heat Safety in the App store for iPhone users, in the Market for Androids.

Click iPhone to preview the App for Apple user and click Android to preview the App for the Android Market.


This means right off the bat everyone need answers to three very important questions.

What Is Heat Illness?

The body normally cools itself by sweating. During hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating isn’t enough. Body temperature can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention.

Who Is Affected?

Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are at risk of heat illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions.

How Can Heat Illness Be Prevented?

Remember these three words:

  • Water
  • Rest
  • Shade

Drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat can help prevent heat illness. Include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans.

Additional steps can also help prevent heat-related illness on the job whether employees are working outside or inside in a hot environment:

  • Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week or so of hot weather for all heat-exposed workers.
  • Pay special attention to workers who are new on the job or have been away from work for a week or more when the weather is hot. Make sure supervisors acclimate (or reacclimate) them properly to working in the heat.
  • Also make sure employees and supervisors know the symptoms of heat illness and look out for these signs in themselves and others during hot weather.
  • Plan for heat-related emergencies, and make sure everyone knows what to do. Acting quickly in heat illness emergencies can save lives.

 Using the Heat Index

 Workers become overheated from two primary sources:

  • Environmental conditions in which they work (whether hot weather outside or hot conditions inside)
  • Internal heat generated by physical labor

To make sure workers keep safe as the heat rises, review this table, which matches temperatures, risk levels, and protective measures for high temperatures:

Heat Index

Risk Lev

Protective Measures

Less than 91ºF

Lower caution

     Basic heat safety and planning

91ºF to 103ºF


     Implement precautions and heighten awareness

103ºF to 115ºF


     Additional precautions to protect workers

Greater than 115ºF

Very high to extreme

     Triggers even more aggressive protective measures

 For lower caution risk level, encourage workers to:

  • Drink plenty of water (make sure it is available).
  • Wear a hat and sunscreen.
  • Take rest breaks in an air conditioned or cool, shaded area.
  • Acclimate if new or returning to work and performing strenuous work.

For moderate risk level, encourage workers to take all of the precautions above, plus:

  • Watch for signs of heat stress (be sure to review signs in a safety meeting and instruct supervisors to watch for symptoms).
  • Drink at least 4 cups of water every hour (make sure it is available).
  • Report heat-related symptoms immediately and seek appropriate first aid (explain who to call and review first aid for heat illness in safety meeting).
  • Call 911 if a worker loses consciousness or appears confused or uncoordinated.

For the high risk level, you should take these additional precautions to protect workers:

  • Increase rest periods.
  • Designate a knowledgeable person (well informed on heat-related illness) at the worksite to determine appropriate work/rest schedules.
  • Reduce the workload, and pace strenuous work tasks.
  • Make sure cool, fresh water is available, and remind workers to drink plenty of water every 15 to 20 minutes.

For very high and extreme risk levels:

  • Reschedule all non-essential outdoor work to days when the heat index is lower.
  • Move essential outdoor work to the coolest part of the work shift.
  • As much as possible allow for earlier start times, split shifts, or evening and night shifts.
  • Prioritize and plan essential work tasks carefully. Strenuous work tasks and those requiring the use of heavy or non-breathable clothing or impermeable chemical protective clothing should not be conducted when the heat index is at or above 115°F.
  • Stop work if essential control methods are inadequate or unavailable when the risk of heat illness is very high.

Now we will continue with the topic of heat illness, exploring factors other than ambient temperature that increase risks as well as reporting on symptoms of heat illness and first aid.

Heat Illness: Nothing to Fool Around With!

Not everyone reacts to heat to the same degree and not every work situation poses the risk of heat illness. Factors that increase an employee’s risk of heat illness in addition to ambient temperature include:

  • Amount of exertion required to do the job
  • Not being acclimated to working in the heat
  • Age (older people have less body water and lower sweat gland efficiency)
  • General health condition
  • Weight (overweight people are at greater risk)
  • Heavy protective clothing that traps heat
  • Medications that can interfere with normal body reactions to heat

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the body no longer sweats and holds so much heat that body temperature reaches dangerous levels. Heat stroke is life threatening. Without prompt identification and treatment, an employee could die.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Dry, hot, reddish skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • High body temperature
  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Chills
  • Confusion

First aid for heat stroke includes:

  • Act immediately, and call for emergency medical help.
  • Move the victim to a cool place while awaiting the ambulance.
  • Cool the victim down as much as possible, using a hose or soaking clothes in water and fanning the body.
  • Monitor breathing.
  • Don’t give fluids if the person is unconscious.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body can’t replace fluids and/or salt lost in sweating. Though not as severe as heat stroke, untreated it can quickly get worse and become heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Weakness, dizziness, and sometimes nausea
  • Pale or flushed appearance
  • Sweating, moist and clammy skin

First aid for heat exhaustion includes:

  • Move the victim to a cool place immediately.
  • Loosen clothing and place cool wet compresses on the skin.
  • Have the victim drink water or an electrolyte beverage slowly.
  • Elevate the feet 8 to 12 inches.
  • Monitor for improvement. If condition worsens, call 911.

IMPORTANT: Make sure both supervisors and employee can recognize symptoms and know first aid for heat illness.