Skip to content

How to Beat the Heat and Prevent Heat Illness: A Step-by-Step Guide

Toby Graham

How to Beat the Heat and Prevent Heat Illness: A Step-by-Step Guide

As the summer approaches, heat illness is a concern on employer’s minds throughout the country. High summer temperatures bring a unique set of challenges that if not addressed correctly, can lead to heat illness, and employee fatality in the most serious cases. The challenges hot summer weather brings range from maintaining employee health, to sustaining productivity in tough conditions, while adhering to all regulatory agency requirements. Heat illness can cause severe problems for your business, but rest assured there are simple preventative measures you can take to avoid heat illness from scorching your company.

OSHA Can Conduct Inspections on 80° Fahrenheit+ Heat Index Days

OSHA is focusing on reducing exposure to indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards that result in on-the-job illness, injury, and death. The National Emphasis Plan consists of targeted inspections, outreach, and compliance assistance.

The NEP authorizes OSHA to conduct pre-planned inspections of high-risk worksites on “heat priority days” where the heat index—of “feel like” temperature—is expected to be 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Know What OSHA Will Look For During an Inspection

OSHA states that the Certified Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) will review/inspect several heat illness-related compliance procedures and documents.

During their review, they will most likely:

  1. Take a look at OSHA 300 Logs and 301 Incident reports.
  2. Interview workers for symptoms of headache, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, or other conditions that may indicate heat-related illnesses, including new employees and employees who have recently returned to work.
  3. Determine if the employer has a heat illness and injury program addressing heat exposure.
  4. Identify/review activities relevant to heat-related hazards.

A KPA Consultant’s Take on Curbing Heat Illness

We sat down with Micah O’Shaughnessy, Regulatory Project Manager at KPA to chat about heat illness. Listen in to the discussion about preparing for the hot summer months by understanding the signs of heat illness and implementing basic precautionary measures to prevent it in the first place.

The Four Types of Heat Illness

OSHA and the CDC categorize heat illnesses into four types.  The chart below lists symptoms and the proper first aid action for each scenario. Managers should be aware of these symptoms to assist their employees.  In all cases, when in doubt, call 911.

Heat Stroke
What to look for
  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)
What to do
  • Call 911 right away-heat stroke is a medical emergency
  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
  • Do not give the person anything to drink
Heat Exhaustion
What to look for
  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting (passing out)
What to do
  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath
  • Sip water

Get medical help right away if:

  • You are throwing up
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Your symptoms last longer than 1 hour
Heat Cramps
What to look for
  • Heavy sweating during intense exercise
  • Muscle pain or spasms
What to do
  • Stop physical activity and move to a cool place
  • Drink water or a sports drink
  • Wait for cramps to go away before you do any more physical activity

Get medical help right away if:

  • Cramps last longer than 1 hour
  • You’re on a low-sodium diet
  • You have heart problems
Heat Rash
What to look for
  • Red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin (usually on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases)
What to do
  • Stay in a cool, dry place
  • Keep the rash dry
  • Use powder (like baby powder) to soothe the rash

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Remember, if you are not a medical professional, use this information as a guide only to help workers in need.

8 Ways to Plan for and Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses

Know the signs.

There are two common kinds of heat-related illness: heat exhaustion and heatstroke. While both call for prompt action, the latter is a medical emergency. Understanding the difference may be a matter of life and death. Either of these illnesses can strike easier than you think.

While people working outdoors in extreme heat are the most susceptible to heat illness, it can also affect people indoors. The radiant heat in some indoor environments—such as metal fabrication shops—can exceed outdoor temperatures. Remember that people frequently overestimate their limits and ability to continue working in the heat. They may not know they’re in trouble before it’s too late.

Know the risks.

All of the following can factor into heat illness risk:

  • current temperature and humidity
  • the use (or non-use) of personal protective equipment
  • the time of day
  • exertion—i.e. the activity level a task demands
  • direct sunlight/shade

Also, make sure your team is acclimated to working in the heat.

Familiarize yourself with the Heat Index.

The NWS Heat Index is a valuable measurement tool for heat-related workforce risk. The scale ranges from 80º F and 40% humidity (defined as the low end of “Caution”) to 110ºF and 100% humidity (far into “Extreme Danger” territory).

Identify heat illness management controls.

Think back to the Heirarchy of Controls we’ve discussed in the past. The greater the danger on the NWS Heat Index, the more protective measures employers should take. Those measures may include any or all of the following:

  • more time for acclimation
  • additional safety briefs
  • additional water sources
  • hydrating snacks and drinks (e.g. popsicles, sports drinks, fruit)
  • periodic hydration reminders
  • additional shade (e.g. with tents)
  • faster job rotation
  • mandatory sunscreen applications
  • more frequent breaks
  • cooling equipment and clothing (e.g. hard hat cooling inserts and evaporative cooling vests)
  • large fans

In any case, always ensure adequate medical services are available and be ready to stop and reschedule work. At certain temperatures, no task is worth the risk.

Take humidity seriously.

Relative humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture in the air. Sweat does not evaporate as quickly in a moist environment as it does in a dry climate. Because evaporation of sweat from the skin is one of the ways the human body cools itself on a hot day, high humidity reduces our natural cooling potential, causing us to feel hotter. Low humidity can also be a problem for outdoor workers in hot, desert-like climates. Sweat evaporates rapidly in low humidity, leading to severe dehydration when a person doesn’t drink enough water throughout the day.

Think indoors, too.

Heat illness can anywhere. Based on where you do business, your organization may be on the hook for indoor as well as outdoor conditions. California, for instance, is finalizing a heat illness prevention rule that would apply to indoor work areas where temperatures exceed 82° F. Many of the same precautions as outdoor environments apply to indoor settings. Remember that architectural aspects, such as reflective shields and insulation, can impact a building’s internal temperature.

Create a heat illness prevention team.

Designate people within your organization as heat safety leaders. Members of the team should be responsible for reporting, monitoring conditions, managing response protocols, implementing controls at each risk level, and ensuring the availability of supplies and equipment.

Educate your employees.

Employees should be trained to recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses, on what to do when symptoms are observed, and on site-specific risks and controls. In addition to their personal heat illness prevention choices, such as water intake and clothing, members of your workforce also need to be aware of their individual risk factors, including age, medications, obesity, diet, smoking habits, and medical conditions. 

These 8 strategies may seem like a lot of work, but they’re easy to implement in any organization with a strong safety culture and workforce management system in place.

Heat illness can affect employees, and in turn a business. The good news is there are simple tactics managers can implement to ensure the safety of their employees as well as sustaining productivity. If you don’t have a plan for the heat, the heat will come up with a plan for you.

See KPA can keep you and your employees cool—in more ways than one.


Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

More from this Author >

Back To Top