The mercury is rising and people who work outdoors are at an increased risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Risk of heat-related illnesses peaks when temperatures reach 95° F with humidity over 60%. Symptoms can range from mild heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. But heat illness is 100% preventable. Before you or your crew heads out to work in the heat, take a few minutes to learn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recommendations on how to prevent and recognize heat-related illness.
What is Heat-Related Illness?
Also known simply as heat illness, it is a result of the body not cooling itself properly. It usually occurs in the form of heat exhaustion, or the more severe, heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion often begins suddenly, after excessive heavy work, heavy perspiration and inadequate fluid intake. Symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, weakness, irritability, confusion, nausea, vomiting, pale/clammy skin, ashen appearance, decreased or dark-colored urine, fainting, bizarre behavior, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, hot red sweaty skin, and/or fever less than 104 F.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a medical emergency! If an individual shows signs of heat-related illness, especially heat stroke, seek professional medical treatment immediately! Call 911 or your site designated emergency number.
Heat stroke may include dry, pale skin with no sweating (distinct absence of sweating), hot, red, flushed dry skin that looks like sunburn, confusion, mood changes, seizures, fits, inability to think straight, unconsciousness, high body temperature, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing or constricted pupils.
Anyone working in extremely hot and/or humid conditions is susceptible to heat-related illness, but especially those exerting themselves by performing heavy labor while wearing heavy clothing and equipment.
- OSHA advocates a simple three-point plan for avoiding heat illness: Water, Rest, and Shade.
- Drink water frequently and moderately. Thirst cannot be relied on as the need for water; instead, water should be taken every 15 to 20 minutes in hot environments. Increase fluid intake to approximately 1-2 quarts per hour during high temperatures especially when over 100° F.
- Cover Up. Wear light-colored, 100% cotton clothing and keep your shirt on. Do not forget to use sunscreen!
- Follow a strict break/rest schedule.
- Consider a summer schedule with strenuous jobs performed during the cooler times of the day.
- Work in shaded areas when possible.
- Ensure you have a way to call for help, i.e. mobile phone, 2-ways radios, etc.
- Break in new workers gradually. The body needs time to adjust to hot environments, usually 1-2 weeks. This adaptation to heat is quickly lost so workers just back from extended vacation will need an adjustment period too.
Know the Risk Level
OSHA breaks down the risk level into four distinct categories. OSHA’s Heat Index Guide identifies the protective measures to take at for each risk levels.
|Heat Index||Risk Level||Protective Measures|
|Less than 91° F||Lower||Basic heat and safety planning|
|91° F to 103° F||Moderate||Implement precautions and heighten awareness|
|103° F to 115° F||High||Additional precautions to protect workers|
|Greater than 115° F||Very High to Extreme||Triggers even more aggressive protective measures|
OSHA’s Safety Tool App calculates the heat index and displays a risk level for outdoor workers. It also lists preventative measures that should be taken to protect workers at risk and the symptoms of heat-related illness.