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Protecting Workers from Heat Illness

At times, workers may be required to work in hot environments for long periods. When the human body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, heat-relate illnesses can occur and may result in death. This [page] provides information to employers on measures they should take to prevent heat-related illnesses and death.

Factors That Increase Risk to Workers:

  • High temperature and humidity
  • Direct sun exposure (with no shade)
  • Limited air movement (no breeze)
  • Low fluid consumption
  • Physical exertion
  • Heavy personal protective clothing and equipment
  • Poor physical condition or health problems
  • Some medications, for example, different kinds of blood pressure pills or antihistamines
  • Pregnancy
  • Lack of recent exposure to hot working conditions
  • Previous heat-related illness
  • Advanced age (65+)

Symptoms and Treatment for Heat Related Illnesses:




Heat stroke (sun stroke)


  • Hot, dry, red skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • High body temperature ≥ 105°
  • Loss of alertness
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness or coma
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Cool the person quickly.
  • Bring to a cool place and use a cool bath or sponges, fans and AC.
  • OR
  • Wrap ice packs in cloth and place on neck, wrists, ankles and armpits.
  • OR
  • Remove clothing and wrap the person in cool, wet sheets.
Heat exhaustion
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Cold, pale, clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke so if symptoms worsen or don't improve get medical help.
  • Move the person to a cool place.
  • Loosen clothes and apply cool, wet cloths to the neck, face and arms.
  • Have the person sip water slowly. Provide half a glass of water every 15 minutes up to about 1 quart. Stop giving water if vomiting occurs.
Heat cramps
  • Muscle cramps in the abdominal area or extremities
  • Heavy sweating
  • Mild nausea
  • Move the person to a cool place.
  • Apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle.
  • Gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold it for 20 seconds followed by gentle massage.
  • Have the person drink some cool water.
Heat rash
  • Skin irritation
  • Looks like red cluster of pimples or small blisters
  • Move the person to a cool place.
  • Keep the affected area dry.
  • Have the person use talcum powder to increase comfort.

Preventing Heat Illness 

Recommendations for All Work Environments (Indoors and Outdoors):

  • Train workers and supervisors about the hazards leading to heat illness and ways to prevent them.
  • Train workers to recognize symptoms in themselves and others.
  • Train and encourage workers to immediately report symptoms in themselves and others.
  • Provide workers with plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations close to the work area. Water should have a palatable (pleasant and odor-free) taste and water temperature o should be 50-60 F if possible.
  • Remind workers to frequently drink small amounts of water before they become thirsty to maintain good hydration. Simply telling them to drink plenty of fluids is not sufficient. During moderate activity, in moderately hot conditions, workers should drink about 1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes. Instruct workers that urine should be clear or lightly colored.
  • Workers should eat regular meals and snacks as they provide enough salt and electrolytes to replace those lost through sweating as long as enough water is consumed. Electrolyte drinks (e.g. Gatorade®) are usually not necessary.
  • Set up a buddy system if possible; if not, check routinely (several times an hour) to make sure workers are making use of water and shade and not experiencing heat-related symptoms.
  • Make workers aware that it is harmful to drink extreme amounts of water. Workers should generally not drink more than 12 quarts (48 cups) in a 24 hour period. If higher amounts of fluid replacement are needed due to prolonged work in high heat conditions, a more comprehensive heat illness prevention program may be warranted.
  • Reduce the physical demands of the job. If heavy job tasks cannot be avoided, change work/rest cycles to increase the amount of rest time.
  • Schedule frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned recovery areas. Note that air conditioning will NOT result in loss of heat tolerance and is recommended for rest breaks.

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