Heat Awareness for Worker Exposure

Many outdoor workers get uncomfortably hot during summer. Employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace – free from unsafe exposure to heat that can result in injuries, disease, reduced productivity, and death.

Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments indoors or outdoors, or even those engaged in strenuous physical activities may be at risk for heat stress. Occupational exposure to heat can result in injuries, disease, reduced productivity, and death.

Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses caused by heat stress, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat rashes, or death. Heat can also increase workers’ risk of injuries, as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and may reduce brain function responsible for reasoning ability, creating additional hazards.

Other heat injuries, such as burns, may occur as a result of contact with hot surfaces, steam, or fire. Those at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments, such as fire fighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners (particularly surface miners), boiler room workers, and factory workers.

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Heat Predictions for Summer

The National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) can help decision makers prepare for extreme heat events days, months, and years in the future.

Risk Factors for Heat Illness

Many outdoor workers are in good physical health, but several factors can increase their risk of suffering from heat illness:

  • high temperature and humidity
  • direct sunlight
  • limited air movement (no breeze)
  • moderate to heavy exertion
  • heavy personal protective equipment
  • dehydration
  • some medications
  • other sources of heat (furnaces, ovens, exhaust)

In some cases, heat-related illness can occur in temperatures as low as the 70s (°F).


Change in Heat Stroke Definition

The definition of heat stroke has also changed in recent years. Heat stroke is now classified as either classic heat stroke or exertional heat stroke which is more common in workplace settings.

Characteristics of the individual (e.g., age and health status), type of activity (e.g., sedentary versus strenuous exertion), and symptoms (e.g., sweating versus dry skin) vary between these two classifications [DOD 2003]. Re-education is needed in the workplace especially about symptoms. Many workers have incorrectly been taught that as long as they were still sweating they were not in danger of heat stroke.

Heat Stress – Health and Safety Training

A heat stress training program should be in place for all who work in hot environments and their supervisors. Workers and supervisors should be trained about the prevention and first aid of heat-related illness before they begin work in a hot environment and before heat index levels go up.

Heat prevention training should be reinforced on hot days. Prevention of heat-related illnesses depends on early recognition of the signs and symptoms of impending heat-related illness and initiation of first aid and corrective procedures at the earliest possible moment.

OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Training Guide

  • A guide for employers to carry out heat safety training, with lesson plans (tailgate or toolbox talks).
  • Available in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF)

Supervisors and Workers are Both Responsible for Heat Safety Awareness

Supervisors: Preventing heat-related illness in your workers requires a commitment to monitoring daily temperatures, continual awareness of workers’ level of effort, and heat-illness prevention training.

Workers: Learn to recognize signs that you or your coworkers need to cool down. Be ready to seek help if you or your coworkers are disoriented, confused, or slurring speech.

Heat Safety Tips and Resources for Worker and Employers

When it gets hot, be ready to respond. Additional resources are available.