Heat Stress

Safety tips for working in high temperatures

Summer’s hotter temperatures pose a threat to employees who work outside, or in hot indoor environments. When the body becomes dehydrated and is unable to cool itself by sweating, serious heat illnesses can occur.

Employees who work outside should be trained so that they are thoroughly familiar with the signs and symptoms of heat stress, which include everything from increased irritability to cramps and fainting.

Heat stroke, which is the late stage of a heat-related illness causes:

  • Vomiting.
  • Decreased alertness level or complete loss of consciousness.
  • High body temperature (sometimes as high as 105’F).
  • Skin may still be moist or the victim may stop sweating and the skin may be red, hot and dry.
  • Rapid, weak pulse.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.

This stage of heat-related illness is life-threatening, and the individual will require immediate emergency attention. Employers should take precautions to prevent heat stress.

  1. Train employees to avoid dehydration. Make sure they have access to plenty of water.
  2. Educate employees about symptoms of heat-related illness, and make sure they understand the medical and behavioral risk factors for heat stress (persons who drink alcohol, and those with illnesses such as diabetes, or who take medications are more susceptible). Encourage employees to cut down on alcoholic beverages and caffeinated drinks.
  3. Supervisors should schedule heavy work for cooler parts of the day. For indoor work, make sure cooling and ventilation systems are functioning properly. Managers should be certain employees take appropriate rest breaks and drink plenty of cool water.
  4. Prepare an emergency plan in advance in case an employee develops any symptoms of heat illness.

For more information, visit the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) website at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/HeatIllnessInfo.html.

Source: American Red Cross. “Health and Safety Tips: Heat Related Illness.” American Red Cross Website. 25 July 2005. http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/tips/heat.html