High Heat – Protecting Employees from Heat-Related Illness

Under the Occupational Safety Health Administration (“OSHA”) law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. The program should outline steps an employer will take to minimize heat illness, such as:

  • A designated person to oversee the program
  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimate or build a tolerance for working in the heat
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness

It is important, especially for workers in warehouse facilities and outdoors to understand the symptoms of heat illness and know the warning signs. Here are a few illnesses that result from exposure to heat in the workplace:

Heat Rash: A condition caused by sweating and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It may appear on the body, such as on the neck, upper chest, groin and elbow creases.

Heat Cramps: A muscle pain usually caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating.

Heat Exhaustion: One of the more serious heat-related illnesses, the onset presents itself with headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating and body temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat Stroke: Considered to be the most serious heat-related illness - this condition may result in death if not promptly treated. This type of stroke occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and the body temperature rises to critical levels.

Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. More than 40% of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, but workers in every field are susceptible. OSHA has implemented a heat illness prevention campaign, which has materials regarding training and awareness to assist employers with understanding heat illness and tips to proactively keep workers safe. For more information, visit www.osha.gov/heat/.

Portions of this article are excerpted from the above-listed website, to include the OSHA FactSheet, “Protecting Workers from the Effects of Heat” and information provided by the Risk Control Consulting Services Division of Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc.