6 Tips to Keep Workers Safe in the Heat
With the first day of summer (June 20) right around the corner, forecasters are calling for above-average heat in some parts of the country and scorching temperatures in July and August. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has resources to help workers and employers stay safe as it heats up.
Here are six things to keep in mind as you prepare for a hot summer:
- Memorize these three words: “Water. Rest. Shade.” Ideally, workers should drink about 1 cup of water every 15-20 minutes but they may need sports beverages containing balanced electrolytes if they are sweating for several hours at a time. Employers should make sure workers can access shaded or air-conditioned rest areas for cooling down as needed.
- New and temporary workers are most at risk. The body needs time to build a tolerance to heat, which is why more than 70% of outdoor heat fatalities occur during a worker’s first week of working in warm or hot environments. The process of building tolerance is called “heat acclimatization.” Learn how to create a heat illness prevention plan and be sure to supervise new employees until they are fully acclimatized.
- Indoor workers also can suffer from heat illness. Kitchens, laundries, warehouses, foundries, boiler rooms and many other work environments can become dangerously hot. Is your industry at risk? See a list of industries where workers are at high risk.
- Use engineering controls or modify work practices to protect employees. For example, try increasing ventilation, using cooling fans, scheduling work at a cooler time of the day, and rotating job functions among workers to minimize heat exposure. Find additional best practices here.
- Familiarize everyone at your workplace with the signs and symptoms of heat illness and make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency.
- Common heat exhaustion signs are dizziness, headaches, cramps, sweaty skin, nausea and vomiting, weakness and a fast heartbeat. Heatstroke symptoms may include red, hot, dry skin; convulsions; fainting; very high temperature and confusion.
- Pair workers with a buddy to observe each other for early signs and symptoms of heat intolerance.
- Employees should call a supervisor for help if they believe someone is ill – and 911 if a supervisor is not available, or if someone shows signs of heatstroke.
- Download the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety App on your iPhone or Android device to help calculate the heat index at your worksite. The app provides specific recommendations for planning work activities and preventing heat illness based on the estimated risk level where you are working.
Learn more about how to prevent heat illness and find resources for your workplace in English and Spanish. Workers and employers who have questions or concerns about workplace safety can contact us online or by phone at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA).
Loren Sweatt is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Follow OSHA on Twitter at @OSHA_DOL.
Editor’s note: Looking for resources related to COVID-19? Find guidance and learn more about OSHA’s response to the coronavirus at www.osha.gov/coronavirus.