Mercury Rising: Heat Related Illness

As the summer approaches, it is imperative that workers who spend long periods of time outside or in hot environments stay safe and mindful of heat related illness. Adults on the job are not the only ones in danger of heat related illness. Children and the elderly have the highest risk of heat related illness. Stay aware while out enjoying summertime activities. You should also avoid leaving children and senior citizens sitting in cars outside during the sweltering summer months.

Heat Related Illness on the Job

Heat related illnesses run the gamut from uncomfortable to fatal. Thousands of employees become sick each year from heat related illness. In an OSHA/Dept. of Labor CDC study from 2012 there were 31 cases of documented heat related worker deaths and 4,120 documented heat related worker illnesses. A large percentage of worker fatalities occurred within the first three days of working on the job. In all cases of heat related worker deaths, acclimatizing programs were found to be incomplete or absent and no provision was made for acclimatizing new workers to the heat. OSHA recommends workers should gradually build up workloads and exposure to heat by taking frequent breaks for water and rest in shade or air conditioning.

OSHA recommends that employers have prevention programs that include oversight, hazard identification, a formal acclimatization program, modified work schedules as necessary, training, monitoring for signs and symptoms, and emergency planning to prevent Heat Related Illness and fatalities. OSHA’s national Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Workers is now in its fifth year aiming to raise awareness among workers and employers about the risks of heat related illness or death and provides some helpful tools to prevent them from happening.

OSHA’s Free Heat Index App for Employers

Proven one of the most helpful tools for employers in the battle against heat related illnesses, OSHA offers a free app for your mobile device that allows workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work sites. The app provides a risk level for employees based on the heat index as well as reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that risk level. Since launching in 2011, over 160,000 users have downloaded the app. For more information and resources (available in both English and Spanish) visit www.osha.gov/heat.

NEW Cal-OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Regulation Amendments went into effect as of May 1, 2015

You can view all of the updated policies and procedures including new definitions and regulations including provisions for water, access to shade, high heat procedures, emergency response procedures, acclimatization, training, and heat illness prevention plans online at https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/documents/Heat-Illness-Prevention-Regulation-Amendments.pdf.


Know the Signs of Heat Related Illness

Heat Rash, also known as prickly heat” is the most common problem in hot work environments and an indicator of heat related illness, often a precursor to more serious conditions like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat cramp symptoms can include severe, sometimes disabling cramps that typically begin suddenly in the hands, calves, or feet and hard, tense muscles. Heat cramps are an early indicator of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion symptoms can include fatigue, nausea, headache, excessive thirst, muscle aches and cramps, weakness, confusion or anxiety, drenching sweats (often accompanied by cold, clammy skin), slowed or weakened heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, and agitation.

Heat stroke can occur suddenly and does not ALWAYS have symptoms of heat exhaustion. Heat stroke symptoms include nausea and vomiting, headache, dizziness or vertigo, fatigue, hot or dry skin, rapid heart rate, decreased sweating, shortness of breath, increased body temperature, confusion, loss of consciousness, delirium, and convulsions.


Treatment of Heat Related Illness

If a person is experiencing the symptoms of heat related illness GET MEDICAL CARE IMMEDIATELY. Any delay in treatment could prove fatal. Seek emergency medical care for anyone who has been in the heat and has ANY of the aforementioned symptoms that are not alleviated by moving to a shady or air-conditioned area and administering fluids and salts.


While waiting for medical care, be sure the affected worker is in a shady, cool area and remove any extra outer clothing. You can fan the worker or apply ice packs, cool water, or cold compresses (especially under armpits). Be sure to provide fluids (water preferably) and be sure to stay with the worker until help arrives.