The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has kicked off a national outreach initiative to educate employers and their workers about the hazards of working outdoors in hot weather. The outreach effort builds on last summer's successful campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of too much sun and heat.

For outdoor workers, water, rest, and shade are three words that can make the difference between life and death, says OSHA.

Every year, thousands of workers across the country suffer from serious heat-related illnesses. If not addressed promptly, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke, which has killed: on average: more than 30 workers annually since 2003. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperature beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness initially may manifest as heat rash or heat cramps, but quickly can become heat exhaustion and then heat stroke if simple prevention steps are not followed.

It is essential for employers and workers to take proactive steps to stay safe in extreme heat, and become aware of symptoms of heat exhaustion before they get worse, says OSHA. Agricultural workers; building, road and other construction workers; utility workers; baggage handlers; roofers; landscapers; and others who work outside are all at risk. Drinking plenty of water and taking frequent breaks in cool, shaded areas are incredibly important in the hot summer months.

In preparation for the summer season, OSHA has developed heat illness educational materials in English and Spanish, as well as a curriculum to be used for workplace training. The agency has also made available a web page providing information and resources on heat illness, including how to prevent it and what to do in case of an emergency.

Access OSHA's materials