While heat related fatalities are below the 10-year average, they are again on the rise. In 2015, 45 people died as a result of extreme heat, up dramatically from a total of 20 in 2014.
Many people are exposed to heat on the job, outdoors or in hot indoor environments. Operations involving high air temperatures, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness. Outdoor operations conducted in hot weather and direct sun, such as landscaping, also increase the risk of heat-related illness in exposed workers.
Most heat-related health problems can be prevented, or the risk of developing them can be reduced. For work in hot environments, refer to the information below.
The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler. A variety of engineering controls can reduce workers’ exposure to heat:
- Air conditioning.
- Increased general ventilation.
- Cooling fans.
- Local exhaust ventilation at points of high heat production or moisture.
- Reflective shields to redirect radiant heat.
Employers should have an emergency plan in place that specifies what to do if a worker has signs of heat-related illness, and ensures that medical services are available if needed.
- Employers should take steps that help workers become acclimatized (gradually build up exposure to heat), especially workers who are new to working in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week of work.
- Workers must have adequate potable (safe for drinking) water close to the work area, and should drink small amounts frequently.
- Rather than being exposed to heat for extended periods of time, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work/rest cycles.
- If possible, physical demands should be reduced during hot weather, or heavier work scheduled for cooler times of the day.
- Rotating job functions among workers can help minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
- Workers should watch out for each other for symptoms of heat-related illness and administer appropriate first aid to anyone who is developing a heat-related illness.
Personal Protective Equipment
Workers should be aware that use of certain personal protective equipment (e.g., certain types of respirators and impermeable clothing) can increase the risk of heat-related illness.
In some situations, special cooling devices, such as cooling bandanas, hats, and other personal protective equipment can protect workers in hot environments.
Workers and supervisors should be trained about the hazards of heat exposure and their prevention. Topics should include:
- Risk factors for heat-related illness.
- Different types of heat-related illness, including how to recognize common signs and symptoms.
- Heat-related illness prevention procedures.
- Importance of drinking small quantities of water often.
- Importance of acclimatization, how it is developed, and how your worksite procedures address it.
- Importance of immediately reporting signs or symptoms of heat-related illness to the supervisor.
- Procedures for responding to possible heat-related illness.
- Procedures to follow when contacting emergency medical services.
- Procedures to ensure that clear and precise directions to the work site will be provided to emergency medical services.
For more information about preventing heat related injuries, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s free resource page, Extreme Heat and Your Health, at www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/materials.html.
Should you require additional assistance with preventing heat related injuries in your workplace, please contact Gary Smith, CRM, at (517) 338-3367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- OSHA’s Occupational Heat Exposure: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/prevention.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Extreme Heat and Your Health: https://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat