Heat Illness Prevention

Summer temperatures have been compounded by the intense, record-setting heat that has smothered much of the southern tier of the United States. As it continues with little relief in sight, workers are exposed to extreme temperatures both indoors and outdoors. Employers must be prepared to protect employees. As OSHA continues to focus on heat illness and prevention, they have dedicated a page on their website with employer resources. Do your part to reinforce awareness of heat stress, heat-related illnesses, and prevention measures. 

Factors Leading to Heat Stress 

The following are common factors that can all contribute to heat stress: 

  • Temperature and humidity (see Heat Index* or Humidex) 
  • Direct sun or heat 
  • Limited air movement 
  • Physical exertion 
  • Physical and medical conditions 
  • Some medications 
  • A lack of tolerance for hot workplaces or areas

*The Heat Index is an indicator of what the temperature really feels like outdoors. Source: National Weather Service. 

Heat Stress Prevention 

  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and monitor yourself and your co-workers. (Tip: Never order employees back to work if they exhibit symptoms of heat illness.) 
  • Block or avoid direct sunlight or other heat sources. 
  • Use cooling fans or air conditioning. 
  • Take regular breaks in shaded areas. 
  • Drink plenty of water or high-electrolyte fluids. (Tip: Drink up to 4 cups of water per hour on hot days.) 
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and heavy meals. 
  • If you detect signs of heat exhaustion, notify a supervisor or appropriate individual with first aid training.

Heat Illnesses

Employer Best Practices 

  • Have a written emergency action plan: 
    • Determine a means of effective communication between supervisors and employees. 
    • Establish procedures for contacting emergency response services, administering first aid, and training employees. 
      • Always staff the area with a person capable of administering first aid. 
  • Monitor for weather events or major changes in temperature throughout the workday.
    • Use the OSHA/NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App to check the heat index. 
  • Close monitoring by supervisors should be supplemented by peer monitoring. 
  • Closely observe new employees during their first 14 days of employment in high-heat areas as they acclimatize. 

Controls For Employees 

  • Provide shaded areas large enough to accommodate all employees during meal, rest, or recovery periods and encourage their use. This can be achieved through the rotation of employee breaks. 
  • Locate shaded areas and drinking water close to where employees work. 
  • Provide employees one quart of water minimum per hour for the entire shift. 
  • If any employee feels the need for protection from overheating, allow a rest period of at least five minutes. 
  • Acclimatize employees by having them work for short periods in the heat and gradually increase their time over two weeks. 
  • Use cooling fans or air-conditioning if possible. 
  • Employees should wear lightweight, lightcolored, and loose-fitting clothes. 
  • Employees should avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and heavy meals. 


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that 50-70% of heat-related fatalities happen in the first few days of working in high heat environments. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of work performed in a hot setting for employees working in high heat environment, whether they are new employees, adjusting to the heat for the first time that season, or are returning to the heat after a week or more absence. 

  • Gradually increase the employee’s work time in hot conditions over a period of 7 to 14 days. 
  • Acclimatization typically requires at least 2 hours of heat exposure per day, which can be separated into two, 60-minute periods. 
  • In addition to getting used to the heat, employees also need to acclimatize to the level of work they need to do. Doing light or brief physical work in the heat will only acclimatize employees to light, brief work. More strenuous or longer tasks require more acclimatization.
  • It is important for employees to cool off and fully rehydrate between their shifts. 
  • Employees should eat their regular meals and stay hydrated while they are acclimatizing. 
  • Acclimatization will be maintained for a few days after heat exposure stops, but employees will lose their full acclimatization level after not working in the heat for 1 week or more. 

Extreme Heat Conditions 

Certain weather conditions may call for additional responsibilities and requirements to work safely in the heat. 

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