Protecting workers from extreme heat

Leslie Ptak Special Contributor
Now Media Group

Every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat and some even die.

Supervisors are in a unique position to prevent heat illness by providing workers with water, opportunity to rest and shade.

When an employee works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, the body's core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. As the body continues to store heat, the worker begins to lose concentration, has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick and often loses the desire to drink.

Who is at risk?

Those at risk of heat illness include: Employees exposed to hot and humid environments; Workers exposed to direct sunlight may experience up to 15-degrees more heat exposure than the heat index indicates; Some workers might be at greater risk if they have not acclimatized or if they have certain health conditions. This includes new workers, temporary workers or those returning to work after a week or more off.

Know the signs

Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses. If you or a co-worker has symptoms of a heat-related illness, tell your supervisor right away. Some of the signs include: Heat Rash — skin irritation; Heat Cramps — muscle cramps, pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs; Heat Exhaustion — rapid heartbeat, headache, heavy sweating, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst and a slightly elevated body temperature; Heat Stroke —confusion, fainting, seizures, high body temperature and excessive sweating.

While most illnesses will abate by resting in a cool area and hydrating, heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death. In the event of heat stroke call 911 immediately.


In 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job. Of the 84 heat-related deaths investigated by OSHA in 2013-14, 17 of 23 died within the first three days on the job, an indication that employers may not be providing workers with enough time to acclimate to hotter weather.

Heat related illnesses can be prevented. With summer temperatures rising, now is the best time to prepare for working outdoors in excessive heat by following a few simple steps:

Employers — schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of the day; acclimatize workers to hot environments; create an emergency plan, train employees about heat illness recognition and prevention. Employees — wear a hat and light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; drink water frequently; rest in the shade to cool down; learn to read the signs of heat illness and know what to do in an emergency.

For more information visit OSHA's Heat Campaign website available at