Preventing and Responding to Heat-Related Illness

August 13, 2023

by Casey Myers

Preventing heat illness protects your workers and is good business. As temperatures increase and other factors change throughout the workday, an employee’s physical and/or mental state can rapidly change into a serious medical condition.  Health and safety problems and other health problems like heart attacks and falls, may result from heat illness at the workplace. Proactive adjustments in work practices and activities may prevent these situations.

Heat illness may increase the costs of doing business by:

  • Reducing employee productivity and efficiency.
  • Increasing your medical and emergency services costs.
  • Taking up supervisory and administrative time.
  • Increasing workers’ compensation premiums.

Here are some tips to comply with OSHA guidelines as temperatures continue to rise this summer:

  1. Heat Illness Prevention Program: Develop and implement a comprehensive Heat Illness Prevention Program tailored to the specific needs of your moving and storage operations. This program should include training, work practices, and emergency response procedures.
  2. Training - Provide heat stress and heat illness prevention training to all workers. Train them to recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as the importance of water, rest and shade.
    1. Water - encourage workers to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if they don't feel thirsty. Provide access to cool and clean drinking water on the job site.
    2. Rest Breaks: Schedule frequent rest breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas to allow workers to cool down and recover from heat stress. Encourage workers to take breaks as needed and avoid overexertion.
    3. Shade - Workers should be given a cool location where they can take their breaks and recover from the heat. This can be a shady area, an air-conditioned vehicle, a nearby building or tent or an area with fans and misting devices.
  3. Work Scheduling - If possible, schedule physically demanding tasks during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon. Minimize exposure to direct sunlight and high temperatures.
  4. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - Provide lightweight and breathable clothing that offers sun protection. Encourage the use of wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect workers from direct sun exposure.
  5. Acclimatization - Gradually introduce new or returning workers to hot working conditions, allowing their bodies to adjust and acclimatize to the heat.
  6. Monitoring - Regularly monitor weather conditions and heat index levels. The heat index considers temperature and humidity, providing a better measure of how hot it feels. Consider suspending or rescheduling work during extreme heat conditions.
  7. Emergency Response - Establish an emergency plan in case a worker shows signs of heat-related illness. Ensure all workers know the procedures to follow and have access to first aid and emergency medical services.
  8. Record Keeping - Maintain records of heat-related illness incidents, training, and preventive measures taken to demonstrate compliance with OSHA regulations.

OSHA Inspections – Heat-Related Illness

Establishments identified for programmed inspections will have inspections for heat-related hazards completed at the same time as their programmed inspections. Inspections will follow the normal OSHA inspection procedures, starting with an opening conference, a walk-through and a follow-up with a closing conference.

During inspections for heat-related hazards, employers should expect that compliance health and safety officers (CSHOs) will:

  • Review OSHA 300 Logs and 301 Incident Reports for any entries indicating heat-related illnesses.
  • Review any records of heat-related emergency room visits or ambulance transportation, even if hospitalizations did not occur (this may require the use of a Medical Access Order).
  • Interview workers for symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fainting, dehydration or other conditions that may indicate heat-related illnesses, including both new employees and any employees who have recently returned to work.
  • Determine whether employers have effective heat-related illness and injury prevention programs in place addressing heat exposure.

When determining whether an employers’ heat-related illness and injury prevention programs are effective, CHSOs will ask the following questions:

  • Is there a written program in place?
  • How does the employer monitor ambient temperature(s) and levels of work exertion at the worksite?
  • Is there unlimited cool water that is easily accessible to employees on-site?
  • Does the employer require additional breaks for hydration?
  • Are there scheduled rest breaks?
  • Is access to a shaded area provided?
  • Does the employer provide sufficient time for the acclimatization of new and returning workers?
  • Is a & “buddy system” in place for hot days?
  • Are administrative controls used (e.g., earlier start times and employee/job rotation) to limit heat exposure?
  • Does the employer provide training on signs of heat-related illnesses, ways to report these signs, steps for performing first aid, methods for contacting emergency personnel, heat-related illness prevention measures and hydration best practices?

CHSOs will document the conditions relevant to heat-related hazards amid inspections and identify employee activities that are relevant to such hazards.

State-Specific Heat Standards

In addition to federal compliance, many states run their own OSHA-approved State Plans. Some states have adopted standards that cover hazards not addressed by federal OSHA standards. The following states have standards for heat exposure:

Remember that compliance with OSHA regulations is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your Heat Illness Prevention Program to ensure it remains effective and relevant to your business. You can consult OSHA’s website or request a no-cost consultation.