Every year, thousands of workers suffer from symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and some will die from heat stroke.
To help workers stay safe while on the job outdoors this summer, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers several resources for employers and workers to help tackle working in extreme heat and hot environments.
Working outside can produce heat stress, resulting in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes.
Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.
Who’s at Risk?
Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions, including construction workers, landscapers, farmers, and others who spend time outdoors are at risk for a heat-related illness.
Additionally, workers who are new to the job or not fully acclimatized, 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take certain medications are at greater risk for a heat-related illness.
"Reducing heat stress and preventing heat-related illnesses is paramount for both employers and workers, particularly when summer temperatures peak and exposure to hot environments are part of the everyday job," says NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.
"NIOSH offers several recommendations and tools that employers can incorporate into trainings, and workers can use in real-time, in order to help prevent illness, injury, or death."
Tips for Working Safely in the Heat
Some examples of NIOSH recommendations that can be applied in many different outdoor workplaces include:
- Limit time in the heat and/or increase recovery time in a cool environment.
- Increase the number of workers per task.
- Train supervisors and workers about heat stress, including symptoms of heat-related illness, first aid, and risk factors.
Use a buddy system where workers observe each other for signs of heat intolerance.
- Use a buddy system where workers observe each other for signs of heat intolerance.
- Provide adequate amounts of cool, potable water near the work area and encourage workers to drink frequently.
- Use a heat alert program (additional written guidelines) whenever the weather service forecasts that a heat wave is likely to occur.
- Develop a plan to get employees acclimatized to hot work conditions and to increase physical fitness.
- Heat Safety Tool App. Download this free app for smart phones and other mobile devices that features real-time heat index—a measure of how the temperature actually feels—and hourly heat index forecasts for the worker’s location.
Though employers have the responsibility of making sure their workers are safe on the job, workers are encouraged to use the Heat Safety Tool app to check the heat index and be more aware of the potential dangers of working outdoors for short or long periods of time.
The app can also give precautionary recommendations specific to the heat index and includes signs and symptoms and first-aid information for heat-related illness.
- Protect Yourself from Heat Stress podcast. Listen to this NIOSH podcast to learn how to identify the symptoms and protect yourself from heat stress.
- Prevent Heat-Related Illness poster. Hang this poster at the worksite to remind employees about the importance of preventing heat-related illnesses.
- NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments. Read this document for additional information on heat stress, how it affects the body, and recommendations for proper monitoring of workers at risk. The information document reflects the most recent scientific research and findings.
Safe Summer Driving
Winter isn’t the only season that can take a toll on driving safety. It is important to keep workers safe on the road during summer, too.
Extreme heat can damage your company’s fleet vehicles and put workers at risk of a breakdown.
Workers who drive as part of their job may be sharing the roads with fatigued or impaired travelers on their way to or returning from vacation.
Many workers are themselves travelers, and some may be driving a company vehicle approved for personal use.
Use the following tips for on- and off-the-job driving.
1. Conduct a vehicle safety check before workers travel.
- Check tire pressure and tread wear. Make sure any spare tires are also in good condition.
- Check the cooling system, including coolant level and quality.
- Check oil, brake, transmission, power steering, and windshield washer fluids.
- Check the condition of all belts and hoses.
- Check air conditioning performance.
2. Provide workers with a sunshade to block heat when the vehicle is parked and a driver emergency kit that includes bottled water, nonperishable snacks, portable phone charger, flashlight, batteries, flares, jumper cables, and a first-aid kit.
3. Give workers information about road construction/closures. Remind them to allow time for possible delays.
4. Set policies that allow drivers to consult with their supervisors to adjust driving hours if they have trouble seeing at night, and to stop driving if they are too tired or the weather is bad.
5. Remind workers to:
- Buckle up every trip, every person. It only takes a second.
- Do not drive if they are fatigued and stop and take breaks as needed.
- Keep alert and aware of their surroundings. Other drivers may be impaired, fatigued, or rushing to reach their destinations.
- Talk to supervisors and coworkers about potential hazards on planned routes, including road construction, bad weather, or dangerous curves.
This article is based on materials provided by NIOSH. Content has been edited for style and length.