Any worker 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. Occupations most affected by heat-related illness are: construction, trade/transportation/utility, agriculture and building/grounds maintenance and cleaning. Other workers who may be affected by exposure to environmental heat include those in transportation/baggage handling, water transportation; landscaping services; greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production; and support activities for oil and gas operations.
What is heat illness?
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 requires immediate medical attention and can result in death.
How can heat illness be prevented?
Employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat. Employers should provide workers with water, rest and shade; should gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks for new workers or workers who have been away for a week or more to build a tolerance for working in the heat (acclimatization); and should educate workers about the symptoms heat-related illnesses and their prevention. Employers should also include the steps to prevent heat illness in worksite training and plans as well as what to do in an emergency. Acting quickly can save lives!
OSHA's key pieces of advice for workers are:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you're not thirsty.
- Rest in the shade to cool down.
- Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
- Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers.
Remember these three simple words: Water, Rest, Shade. Taking these precautions can mean the difference between life and death.