How to Prevent Heat Stress in the Workplace

How to Prevent Heat Stress in the Workplace

June 15, 2022

Learn how to recognize heat stress symptoms and prevent heat-related illnesses on the job site. 

June is National Safety Month. Learn how your crew can improve workplace safety by preventing and properly treating heat stress disorders. 

What is Heat Stress? 

Typically, human bodies use a process called thermoregulation to maintain a healthy core body temperature. However, in extreme heat or when working in high temperatures, the body may not be able to cool itself fast enough. Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to get rid of excess heat, resulting in a high internal body temperature. 

Because heat stress is caused by overheating, high temperatures and high humidity levels (which prevent sweat from cooling the body) put people at risk. Workers and athletes have a high risk of developing heat stress, as body temperature naturally increases with physical activity. 

Additional factors, such as dehydration, certain medications, and pre-existing medical conditions can also increase your risk of getting a heat-related illness. 

Heat-Related Illnesses 

A person with heat stress is at risk of developing a heat-related illness. Heat-related illnesses can range from mild to life-threatening. Understanding heat stress symptoms and treatment methods is crucial for keeping workers safe on site in high temperatures.

Heat Rash 

Heat rash is a common, uncomfortable but typically benign heat-related illness. When pores are clogged, sweat becomes trapped beneath the skin, leading to an itchy red rash and blisters. 

Because heat rash is not a medical emergency, workers who develop heat rash can treat it by keeping the skin cool and dry. 

Heat Cramps 

Heat cramps are muscle cramps or spasms caused by low salt levels in the muscles. Heat cramps are common in construction workers and other workers who complete strenuous tasks outdoors or in high temperatures as sweating depletes the body’s water and salt levels. 

Workers with heat cramps should rest, drink water, and eat or drink something with carbohydrates and electrolytes, such as a sports drink, to help their body recover from heat cramps. 

Heat Exhaustion

Heat cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion, alongside dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating and clamminess, fatigue or weakness, rapid heart rate, elevated body temperature or fever, irritability, and increased thirst.

Heat exhaustion can be treated with rest, a cooler environment, and hydration. However, if a person’s symptoms don’t improve within an hour of treatment medical attention will be required.

Heat Stroke 

Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related disorder, and can be fatal without emergency medical treatment. When a person develops heat stroke, their body is no longer able to regulate their internal temperature. As a result, their body’s temperature rises rapidly to dangerous levels, which can quickly cause organ damage or failure. Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, rapid heart rate, dry and hot skin, slurred speech, confusion or an altered mental state, nausea, and seizures. 

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If a member of your crew is suffering from heat stroke, it is important to call 911 and stay with them to keep them cool while waiting for emergency services to arrive. 

Heat Stress Prevention 

Luckily, heat stress can be prevented. 

Heat stress prevention starts with creating a safe work environment. When possible, supervisors should reschedule jobs in extreme temperatures or plan for additional breaks, hydration, and safety measures on site. The OSHA-NIOSH Safety Tool is a free heat-index calculator that provides alerts and recommendations for outdoor workers. Using the tool, supervisors can make informed decisions to protect their workers and prevent heat stress in the workplace. 

Hydration is crucial to preventing heat stress in the workplace. Sweat is the body’s number one way of cooling itself, which is difficult when you’re not properly hydrated. As your body needs more water when you’re active or in the heat, it is especially important to make sure you’re drinking enough water and electrolytes before and during summer work days to lower your risk of experiencing heat stress symptoms. 

As a High-Visibility Safety Apparel (HVSA) company, Kishigo knows how important clothing is to your safety on site. Not only does the right gear lower your risk of injury by increasing your visibility, it can also decrease your risk of developing heat stress.  

Working in direct sunlight can increase the heat index by 15º Fahrenheit. When working the shade is not possible, brimmed hats and hard hat shields can be used to shade the face and neck from the sun. 

Though loose clothing helps prevent overheating and mitigates the symptoms of heat rash, it can be dangerous on site. However, safe workwear can still aid in heat stress prevention. Kishigo’s HVSA uses moisture wicking fabric, Ultra-Cool™ mesh and strategically placed ventilation in key hot spots to create workwear that is breathable but worksite safe. Kishigo also carries a full line of  headwear and hard hat accessories such as sun shields, safari hats and nape protectors to keep the sun at bay.  As a result, workers can stay cool and discourage heat rash and other heat-related illnesses. 

Heat stress can be incredibly dangerous to workers during the summer months. Taking time to practice prevention methods, understand the warning signs, and learn treatment strategies can ensure safety for your whole crew. 

National Safety Month takes place from June 1-30, 2022. Read our recent blog post on how to join.