Extreme heat causes more deaths than any other weather-related hazard, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
If your employees must work in hot environments, it’s important to know the risks 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.
For more advice on steps you can take to prevent heat-related illness among employees, visit OSHA’s occupational heat exposure page.
Your employees also need to be educated on how to prevent heat-related illness.
Tell employees 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 5-7 days.
- 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.
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.