Heat Illness

Every day, workers are put in situations where they are exposed to heat while on the job. Heat illness is something that can affect anyone…regardless of age, gender, or health status. Many times, workers don’t even know it is happening to them until it’s too late.

According to OSHA.gov, approximately 618 people die every year in the United States from various heat-related illnesses…and thousands more are hospitalized.

Heat illness happens when the temperature outside is hotter than normal body temperature. The body begins certain processes, such as sweating, in an attempt to cool itself down. However, sweating is only effective when there are ample amounts of fluids and salts stored and/or replaced in the body. Eventually, the body will begin to store the excess heat…causing the body temperature to rise. As this escalates, the individual will begin to experience a wide variety or signs and symptoms from heat-related illnesses.


Heat illness can present itself in many forms. Early signs of a heat illness include:

Rashes (usually near the neck or upper chest)

Small red bumps on the skin

Muscle cramps

Excessive sweating



Increased heart rate

In a relatively small amount of time, an individual can become confused and/or disoriented, and possibly even faint. Heat stroke is the most dangerous form of heat illness, and presents itself through the following:

significant decrease in sweating

Loss of consciousness



Outdoor duties done under direct sun, such as construction and agricultural work, can increase an employee’s risk of suffering from a heat-related illness. Heat exposure can increase dramatically during the hotter seasons of the year, such as spring and summer.

Other factors that can increase an individual’s risk for heat illness include:

Hot and humid conditions

Individuals performing heavy work tasks

Individuals who are dehydrated

Bulky/non-breathable personal protective equipment

Individuals who are not well adapted to the climate

Certain preexisting health conditions (obesity, heart disease, mental illness, excessive alcohol consumption, poor circulation, prescriptions drug use, etc.)


According to Section 5(a) (1), the General Duty Clause, employers are to provide a workspace that is free of known safety hazards, including extreme heat. Employers can establish safe practices to help prevent against heat-related illness. A few safe practices employers can implement to protect their employees include:

Train their workers

Establish heat related emergency plans

Provide safe and accessible drinking water near work areas

Encourage workers to consume small amounts of water frequently

Monitor workers for any signs or symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

Incorporate work/rest cycles to reduce the amount of time exposed to extreme heat

Provide a shaded area for workers to rest and move to if they start to feel ill

As soon as workers begin to experience any heat-related symptoms, they should:

If safe, move to a cooler environment

Keep any area affected by rashes/bumps dry

Drink plenty of cool water

Sit or lie down until symptoms go away

Cool the body down with cold packs/cold rags

Have a coworker stay with you until you feel better

If symptoms do not get better, seek further medical treatment

If an individual loses consciousness or experiences seizures, call 911 immediately

For more information on heat illness, its symptoms and severities, and ways of prevention, please visit: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/index.html

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