Heat Illness Prevention

Elizabeth Ruiz

Posted 5/01/2024

The heat is officially here in Maintenance World’s hometown of Raleigh, NC. In this week’s newsletter, we want to provide some hot weather safety and heat illness prevention tips and reminders for our readers to stay safe on the job site!

According to OSHA, every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in hot or humid conditions. OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign educates employers and workers on heat hazards and provides resources to keep workers safe. 

Let’s dive into OSHA’s heat illness prevention information for the workforce, what your employer’s responsibilities are, and ways you can keep yourself safe from the dangers and risks of heat illness. 

Information for Workers

You are entitled to a safe workplace according to federal law. Because heat exposure can cause illness and death, it is important that you know your rights in regard to preventing heat illness:

  • By law, you can verbalize your concerns about hazards without being retaliated against by your employer. Find out more about whistleblower protections here.
  • You can speak with OSHA inspectors and request that OSHA perform an inspection.
  • Report injuries and/or illnesses. You have the right to review and get copies of medical records from your employer.
  • You are allowed to ask for and review the results of any inspections, examinations, or tests taken to uncover hazards in your workplace.

Employer Responsibility

Have a heat illness prevention plan in place:

  • Plan ahead to protect employees when heat hazards are present
  • Be aware of the heat hazards in the plant, mill, or mine and calculate heat stress
  • Protect new employees*
  • Seek information and guidance on engineering controls, work practices, and PPE
  • WATER – REST – SHADE
  • Be familiar with the symptoms of heat illness and be able to provide first aid

Employers are also responsible for providing proper training to all workers, including supervisors, making sure they fully understand risks related to heat exposure (outdoors and indoors), preventive actions, and first aid. Keep safety information material, such as posters and pamphlets, that are easily accessible to all employees in the workplace. 

*Employees who are inexperienced in working in higher temperatures are at an increased risk of heat-related illness. Particularly during the first few days on the job, any and all symptoms should be taken very seriously, and the employee should be allowed to stop working. Evaluate affected personnel for possible heat-related illness. For more information, see OSHA’s guidelines on Protecting New Workers.

Heat Illness Prevention Tips

  • Stay hydrated at all times. Even if you aren’t thirsty, drink a cool cup of water every 20 minutes. Have drinks with electrolytes for longer jobs.
  • Take rest breaks in a shady or cool area and allow your body to recover.
  • Wear proper clothing for the heat. It is best to wear a hat and light-colored, loose (where allowed) clothing. 
  • Make sure any face coverings are not wet or soiled. If it is, change it. 
  • Understand your own personal risk factors of how you tolerate heat. 
  • Understand the engineering controls, work practices, and PPE requirements for the job.
  • Verbally check on team to make sure everyone is safe in the heat. 

Hydrated and Happy

How much water should you drink during the day? According to Harvard Medical School, men should have around 15.5 cups and women should have about 11.5 cups (this varies from person to person). Not all water comes from drinking it – it can be taken in through other fluid sources such as coffee, tea, juice, milk, fruits, and vegetables. 

Increase water intake for heat illness prevention if…

  • you are working, exercising, or otherwise physically active over a long period of time
  • you are in high indoor or outdoor temperatures

Not drinking enough water each day can cause dehydration, a symptom that can contribute to heat illness. Work with your doctor to find the right amount of daily water for you. 

See this heat illness prevention pamphlet from OSHA for more detail about hydration.

Signs of Heat Illness 

If you notice unusual thinking or behavior, slurred speech, seizures, or loss of consciousness, this is a medical emergency. Call 911 and then cool the person with water or ice and monitor them until help arrives. 

Warning signs of heat illness include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Heavy sweating or hot, dry skin
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urine output

If you see someone experiencing the symptoms above, take these actions:

  • Give them water to drink.
  • Move them to a shadier/cooler area.
  • Cool them off with water, ice, or a fan.
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing.
  • Don’t them leave alone.
  • Call 911 or seek medical care if in doubt.

Read these first aid tips so you are more prepared in the event of an emergency.

heat illness prevention includes first aid

Heat Illness First Aid

Knowing the proper first aid for heat illness prevention can make a critical difference in your plant, mill, or mine.

  • Move the affected person to a shadier/cooler area – air conditioning if possible
  • Cool the worker off immediately, using active cooling techniques such as:
    • Get the worker into cold water or an ice bath. Make an ice bath by placing all available ice into a large container with water. This is the best method for cooling someone rapidly in an emergency.
    • Remove outer layers of clothing, particularly heavy protective clothing that may be used on the job.
    • Put ice or cold, wet towels on the head, neck, trunk, armpits, and groin.
    • Turn on fans to circulate air around the affected person.
  • Don’t leave people with heat-related illness alone. The illness can rapidly become worse. Stay with them until help arrives. 
  • When in doubt, call 911!

Summary

As temperatures rise, it’s crucial for workers and employers to prioritize heat illness prevention. OSHA provides valuable resources and guidelines for maintaining a safe work environment, including recognizing symptoms, providing proper training, and implementing preventive measures such as hydration, rest breaks, and protective clothing. By staying informed and proactive, we can ensure a healthier and safer workplace for all, even in the hottest conditions. Stay cool, stay safe, and remember: Water, Rest, Shade!


Sources:

OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Campaign

OSHA Heat-Related Illnesses and First Aid

OSHA Heat Illness PDF

Harvard Medical School

Heat Illness Prevention Campaign logo courtesy OSHA


maintenance world

Looking for a midweek break? Keep up with the latest news brought to you by the Maintenance World Crew.

Picture of Brawley

Brawley

EXPLORE BY TOPIC

Join the discussion

Click here to join the Maintenance and Reliability Information Exchange, where readers and authors share articles, opinions, and more.

Get Weekly Maintenance Tips

delivered straight to your inbox