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Heat-Related Illness

With summer here, it’s a good time to review heat-related illness. Thousands of people become sick each year and many die due to this preventable occurrence.

Any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is at risk of heat illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, including new workers, temporary workers, or those returning to work after a week or more off. All workers are at risk during a heat wave.

Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.

Know the Signs

It’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness—acting quickly can prevent more serious medical conditions and may even save lives.

* Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include: confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. Call 911 if a coworker shows signs of heat stroke.

* Heat exhaustion is also a serious illness. Symptoms include: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. Heat fatigue, and heat rash are less serious, but they are still signs of too much heat exposure.

If someone exhibits symptoms of heat-related illness, get help immediately. If you can, move the person to a shaded area loosen his/her clothing, give him/her water (a little at a time), and cool him/her down with ice packs or cool water.

To prevent heat illness remember:
* Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
* Encourage employees to drink water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty.
* Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
* Monitor workers for signs of illness.
* Be sure employees get used to the heat and build up a tolerance. Not being used to the heat is a big problem. Many of the people who died from heat stress were either new to working in the heat or returning from a break. If a worker has not worked in hot weather for a week or more, their body needs time to adjust.
* Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.

Heat related illness resources are available on OSHA’s website in English and Spanish. Check out www.osha.gov/heat.