Summer is Near, Do you Know How to Prevent Heat Illness?


As the summer approaches, heat illness is a concern on employer’s minds throughout the country. High summer temperatures bring a unique set of challenges that if not addressed correctly, can lead to heat illness, and employee fatality in the most serious cases. The challenges hot summer weather brings range from maintaining employee health, to sustaining productivity in tough conditions, while adhering to all regulatory agency requirements. Heat illness can cause severe problems for your business, but rest assured there are simple preventative measures you can take to avoid heat illness from scorching your company.

OSHA categorizes heat illnesses into four types.  The chart below lists symptoms and the proper first aid action for each scenario. Managers should be aware of these symptoms to assist their employees.  In all cases, when in doubt, call 911.

Heat Illnesses

Illness Symptoms First Aid
Heat Stroke
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature
  • Call 911
  • While waiting for help:
  • Place worker in shady, cool area
  • Loosen clothing, remove outer clothing
  • Fan air on worker; cold packs in armpits
  • Wet worker with cool water; apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available
  • Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible
  • Stay with worker until help arrives
Heat Exhaustion
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Fast heart beat
  • Have worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area
  • Give worker plenty of water or other cool beverages to drink
  • Cool worker with cold compresses/ice packs
  • Take to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes
  • Do not return to work that day
Heat Cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain (usually in abdomen, arms, or legs)
  • Have worker rest in shady, cool area
  • Worker should drink water or other cool beverages
  • Wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work
  • Have worker seek medical attention if cramps don't go away
Heat Rash
  • Clusters of red bumps on skin
  • Often appears on neck, upper chest, folds of skin
  • Try to work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible
  • Keep the affected area dry

*Remember, if you are not a medical professional, use this information as a guide only to help workers in need.

Heat illness can affect employees, and in turn a business. The good news is there are simple tactics managers can implement to ensure the safety of their employees as well as sustaining productivity. First, managers need to consider all the factors that play a role.

A big factor to consider is to analyze an employee's tolerance to elevated temperature. Everyone is different, and some employees may have a history of working in hot conditions, making those individuals more acclimated to temperature increases. However, even if an employee does have a history of working in hot conditions, it always takes time for the body to adapt. The first week or two working in hot conditions is normally the toughest on the employees. Everyone needs time for their bodies to adjust and to build up a tolerance. Productivity for the first two weeks will likely not be at an all-time high, but that is perfectly normal.

Another factor to consider is whether or not your employees are working indoors. If your employees are in fact working indoors, an important element to think about is whether or not your facility has an air conditioning unit. In a non-air conditioned shop, the employer will need to more closely monitor the employees for symptoms of heat stress, and adjust their work schedule accordingly. In a facility with an air conditioning unit, pay special attention to those employees who transition between cool indoor and hot outdoor environments.

Managers should adapt their staffs' schedules accordingly after taking these factors into consideration. Now that you know some of the influences to heat illness, let's take a look at some easy steps to ensure employee safety as well as the continuance of productivity.

Employee Safety and Productivity

First, rest breaks and constant hydration are essential. It's a simple but effective way of ensuring your employees stay energized and in good condition. Breaks should be initiated and seen as a necessity to ensure employees have time to recover from increased temperatures. Hydration is also key when preventing heat illness. Water breaks should be mandatory as hydration is one of the strongest defenses against heat illness. Another simple step is to mitigate exposure to the sun. Making sure employees take breaks in the shade is an easy way of implementing this concept. 

Even if all these preventative measures are being followed, it is important to assign someone who is well educated on the symptoms of heat-illness to oversee employee operations. This will ensure that employee symptoms will be detected early, and the proper action can then be taken.

Having the correct protocol in place is also important. Managers and employees alike should monitor local news and weather reports so they are aware of the possibility of heat illnesses and take necessary steps to prepare themselves for the heat. Remember, taking the proper action, or going the extra mile to make sure employees are hydrated can potentially be the difference between life and death. If you don't have a plan for the heat, the heat will come up with a plan for you.

KPA has developed a Heat Illness Prevention training that is now available for clients. The training covers types of heat illnesses, personal factors, and mitigation steps to reduce the effect on your employees. In California, training and a written program are mandated for certain employees working in extreme heat.

If you have questions about KPA's Heat Illness Prevention training, or questions in general, contact