Combatting Heat Stress on the Worksite | 9 Prevention Tips

manage and prepare for heat stress by creating a heat acclimation schedule

While deaths from heat stress remain thankfully low in the US, a total of 43 work-related deaths in 2019 occurred because of heat exposure. 

Combating heat stress and other environmental risks is important in promoting worker safety. 

It’s no secret that construction and industrial jobs may be at a greater risk for heat stress during the summer because they work outside.  

However, while heat stress is primarily caused by exposure to extremely high temperatures, heat stress may also result from:

  • High humidity
  • Radiant heat sources 
  • Over-exhaustion in high temperatures

For this reason, heat stress is an essential consideration for any work environment, whether you work indoors or outdoors. 

To help businesses combat heat stress at the workplace, we’ve developed ten prevention and treatment tips. 

1. Warn Workers of the Risk of Heat Stress

Providing workers with educational materials is important in helping people identify the risks and symptoms of heat stress. OSHA provides handouts designed to educate workers, and we suggest holding training sessions and including them in training materials. 

Helping workers understand when to tell superiors when they are feeling the symptoms of heat stress or identifying possible hazards that lead to heat stress can greatly minimize its risk in any work setting. 

Additionally, we recommend protecting workers by educating them about the elevated risk of heat stress caused by caffeine intake, alcohol, being out of shape, and not drinking enough fluids. Avoiding direct sunlight and staying away from radiant heat sources can also help them lower their risk. 

Finally, we recommend posting a urine color chart in bathrooms to help workers identify when their body is telling them they are dehydrated and require more fluids. Incorporate these considerations in your construction safety plan or any safety plan you have at your worksite to educate workers on the risks of heat stress. 

2. Recognize the Symptoms of Heat Stress

Heat illness can be defined as either heat exhaustion or heat stroke, with the latter being significantly more dangerous. Typically, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, though the symptoms of heat stroke can arise in extreme circumstances.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

On the other hand, heat stroke could carry more serious symptoms, such as losing consciousness, stopping sweating, and seizures. 

If someone demonstrates the symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke, you need to create a treatment program that allows workers to assist their coworkers. 

3. Create a Heat Illness Treatment Program

A heat illness treatment program can be posted on a bulletin or implemented as part of your worksite training and safety procedures. Treatment options for someone with heat stress should include:

  • Calling 911 or contacting a medical proffesional
  • Alerting a supervisors
  • Giving that person adequate rest
  • Removing them from heat sources and into a shady area
  • Providing adequate fluids 
  • Applying ice or a fan to help cool down skin temperatures
  • Taking off appropriate clothing to help them cool down

4. Create a Heat Acclimatization Schedule

Supervisors can also help manage and prepare for heat stress by creating a heat acclimation schedule that reduces an individual’s risk of heat exposure. This schedule can be implemented on excessively hot days when strenuous work is conducted during the cooler part of the morning or when someone new is not used to the intensity of a job and requires acclimation to adjust internally. 

Acclimatization schedules can be managed however a manager feels best, such as by allowing new workers to start out their first few days working at a 50% workload or pace and gradually adding more as they become acclimated. 

5. Know When to Reduce Workloads

On the other hand, acclimation to heat should be adjusted when conditions become too unbearable. For example, on days that exceed over 100 degrees, providing early dismissals or reduced workloads can greatly reduce your workers’ risk of heat stress. 

Be open and listen to workers when they let you know they can no longer bear the conditions. Everyone is different, and people with worse health conditions will struggle more to handle the hot temperatures. 

6. Provide Adequate Water Supplies

In terms of practical tips, we generally aim to provide workers in hot environments with at least one pint of water an hour, if not one cup, every 15 to 20 minutes. 

Providing adequate water supplies in the form of shared drinking foundations or water carts on job sites can help alleviate the symptoms of heat stress and allow workers to work in the heat more comfortably. 

7. Find Ways to Create Air Ventilation

Air ventilation is an easy way to reduce the feel of excessively hot temperatures and reduce humidity in a workplace. Use fans, air conditioners, and air vents to allow cool air to circulate in rooms. 

Employing fans outside and finding ways to block the sun can reduce the real heat feel and allow workers to operate more comfortably outside. 

8. Allow Workers to Wear Loose Fitting Clothing 

Provide workers with loose synthetic clothing, like polyester, that breathes easier in hot conditions. Balance heat demands with safety demands, allowing workers on construction sites to take off hats or vests when unnecessary.

9. Monitor Temperatures

Finally, be prepared in advance by monitoring temperatures outside and adjusting work schedules and important projects around what mother nature provides. This prevention tip will allow you to mitigate the risks of heat stroke and operate without worry from the crew. 

Work with a construction safety consultant to help create a heat illness treatment and prevention program to protect your workers. 

Combatting Heat Stress FAQs

What happens to your body during heat stress?

One might feel a cool or cold sensation across their skin, accompanied by a rapid pulse, shallow breathing, and other general symptoms, such as dizziness and nausea. 

How long does it take to recover from heat stress?

Some people with heat exhaustion may recover quickly with adequate hydration and rest. However, most people suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke may require up to 48 hours to recover.

How do workers recover from heat stress?

There are many things supervisors can do to facilitate a quick recovery:

  • Provide adequate hydration
  • Allow for adequate rest (may include an hour or more)
  • Allow workers to rest in a cool or shady place
  • Provide workers with a meal to help with blood sugar
  • Allow workers to wear looser clothing