Washington, D.C. – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has made the following information available for workers who are having to deal with extreme heat while on the job.
Hot weather is here. When you are working outside, extreme heat is not only uncomfortable…it can kill. Last year, thousands of workers in the United States got sick from exposure to heat on the job, and more than 30 workers died. They have a simple message for employers and workers…
Heat illnesses can be deadly!
A construction worker began installing a roof one hot sunny morning. Two hours later, he complained of feeling ill and vomited., however he continued working. At 3:00 p.m., when he climbed down the ladder, he was confused and unsteady. He missed a step and fell. He was taken to the hospital and later died. His body temperature was 108 degrees.
Another young worker arrived for her shift at a vineyard. She was pregnant, and her job required her to spend long hours tying grapevines in the sun. As the day wore on, the temperature soared, eventually reaching triple digits. After nine hours of work, she collapsed from heat exhaustion. Two days later, she was dead. She was 17 years old.
Every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat, and some even die. These illnesses and deaths are entirely preventable.
Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are 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.
Beat the heat: Three Simple Steps
How can heat illness be prevented? Remember three simple words: water, rest, shade. Drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat can help prevent heat illness. Employers should include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans. Gradually build up to heavy work in hot conditions. This helps you build tolerance to the heat – or become acclimated. Employers should take steps that help workers become acclimated, especially workers who are new to working outdoors in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week of work. Also, it’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat illness in yourself and others during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do — acting quickly can save lives!
- WATER: Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water. A good rule of thumb is to drink 4 cups of water every hour. It is best to drink a small amount of water every 15 minutes.
- REST: Rest breaks help your body recover.
- SHADE: Resting in the shade or in air-conditioning helps you cool down.
More Steps to Reduce Your Risk
Here are some other ways you can prevent illness from the heat:
- Report symptoms of heat illness right away.
- Wear light-colored cotton clothing.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
- Watch out for your coworkers.
- Know where you are working in case you need to call 911.
Heat-related Illness: Know the Signs
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. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention.
It’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness—acting quickly can save lives.
- Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Usually, when your body builds up heat, you sweat to get rid of the extra heat. With heat stroke, your body can’t cool down. The symptoms include: confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. HEAT STROKE IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. CALL 911 if a coworker shows any signs of heat stroke.
- Heat exhaustion happens when your body loses too much water and salt through sweating. Symptoms may include: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating.
- Heat fatigue, heat cramps, and heat rash are less serious, but they are still signs of over exposure to heat.
If you feel any of the symptoms of heat-related illness, or you see a coworker in distress, tell your supervisor right away.
OSHA CAN HELP.
This year, OSHA and its State Plan partners have launched a nationwide campaign to raise employer and worker awareness of the dangers of heat and how to protect workers. Visit www.osha.gov for worker fact sheets, worksite posters, and other resources on preventing heat illness, in both English and Spanish. If you have questions, call OSHA. It’s confidential. Call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit www.osha.gov to learn more about heat illness.
- OSHA Heat Prevention Lesson Plan (Available in English [7 MB PDF*, 43 pages], and en Español [9 MB PDF*, 43 pages])
- Cal/OSHA Heat Safety Training Kit for Employers*
- Cal/OSHA DVD: Water, Rest, Shade: The Work Can’t Get Done Without Them*
- Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Training Materials for Employers*
- Labor Occupational Health Program’s (University of California, Berkeley) guide for tailgate training: Heat Hazards in Agriculture (2008). Also available en Español [1 MB PDF, 44 pages].
- Farm Safety Association, Inc. Script for Instructors: Dangers of Heat Stress. Also available en Español. (2000, March).
- Ohio State University Extension Training Module: Heat Stress. Also available en Español.
- Texas Department of Insurance Fact Sheet: Heat Stress [169 KB PDF, 2 pages]. Also available en Español [169 KB PDF, 2 pages].
*NOTE: California and Washington state have their own heat illness prevention standards; these materials reflect the requirements in those standards.
Editor’s Note: Illustration credits: Cal/OSHA