OSHA warns of heat illness in outdoor workers
HEAT ILLNESS CAN BE DEADLY.
Every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat,
and some even die. Heat illnesses and deaths are preventable. Employers
are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive
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 such as
drinking water frequently and resting in the shade or air conditioning.
Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion
and heat stroke. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention and can result in death.
How can heat illness be prevented?
Employers should establish a complete heat illness prevention program
to prevent heat illness. This includes: provide workers with water,
rest and shade; gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent
breaks for new workers or workers who have been away for a week or more
to build a tolerance for working in the heat (acclimatization);
modify work schedules as necessary; plan for emergencies and train
workers about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their
prevention; and monitor workers for signs of illness. Workers
new to the heat or those that have been away from work and are returning
can be most vulnerable to heat stress and they must be acclimatized.
To prevent heat related illness and fatalities:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.
- Rest in the shade to cool down.
- Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
- Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers.
- “Easy does it” on your first days of work in the heat. You need to get used to it.
If workers are new to working in the heat or returning from more than
a week off, and for all workers on the first day of a sudden heat wave,
implement a work schedule to allow them to get used to the heat
gradually. Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15
degrees Fahrenheit. Keep this in mind and plan additional precautions
for working in these conditions.
Remember these three simple words: Water, Rest, Shade. Taking these precautions can mean the difference between life and death.
Who is affected?
Any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is 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, including new workers, temporary workers, or those returning to work after a week or more off. This also includes everyone during a heat wave.
Industries most affected by heat-related illness are: construction;
trade, transportation and utilities; agriculture; building, grounds
maintenance; landscaping services; and support activities for oil and