chat icon


Heat Stroke & Illness At Work | Can’t Take the Heat?

Heat Stroke & Illness At Work | Can’t Take the Heat?

What Is Heat Stress?

Heat stress is what happens when one experiences excessive or elongated exposure to heat and humidity without relief or enough fluid intake. Heat stress commonly results in heat-related illnesses and injuries like heat cramps or heat stroke. Everyone reacts to heat stress differently. Age is the biggest factor in how your body will react to heat stress. 

Most adults produce minimal heat and tend to sweat a lot. Sweating is one of the body’s natural cooling functions. This means that adult bodies have an easier time adjusting to the heat than adolescents or children do. 

Despite this, around 50 employees die every year due to heat-related illness or injury. In this article, we will discuss the different types of illnesses and injuries caused by heat stress as well as the symptoms to watch for and how to treat it.

Different Types of Heat-Related Illnesses and Injury

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are the mildest kind of heat illness and are generally accompanied by severe muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after vigorous exertion and sweating in hot temperatures.

Heat cramps symptoms include intense cramping, particularly in the legs, and flushed wet skin. The following are the best ways to treat heat cramps:

  • Find a cool location and rest. Do not engage in any activity that requires you to strain yourself.
  • Remove any extra clothing and fan or apply a cool cloth to the skin.
  • Drink cool sports drinks that contain salt and sugar.
  • Slowly and gently stretch cramping muscles.

If you are not the one suffering from heat cramps, help the victim do these same things. 

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion, which is more serious than heat cramps, is brought on by the body losing salt and water. Extreme heat, profuse perspiration, and a lack of appropriate hydration and salt replacement are the key factors. If ignored, heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke because the body is unable to effectively cool itself down. The most common symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Pale, moist skin
  • Fever over 100.4
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety and faint feeling

The best and most efficient strategies to manage heat exhaustion are to:

  • Rest in a cool area
  • Take off extra clothing to cool the skin
  • Sip on a cool sports drink that contains salt and sugar

Have someone take you to the emergency room right away if there is no improvement. If you are not the one suffering from heat exhaustion, treat the victim using the same methods. 

Heat Rash

Heat rash occurs when sweat becomes trapped in the skin. Certain types of heat rash are quite irritating. Heat rash in adults commonly appears in skin creases and where clothes scrape against the skin. The symptoms of a heat rash can range from small red bumps to deep blisters. 

Heat rash normally disappears when the skin cools down. Extreme cases of the illness may necessitate medical attention.

Types of Heat Rash Workers Can Experience

Heat rash classifications depend on how deeply the sweat is trapped in the skin. The symptoms and signs of each type differ.

  • Miliaria crystallina is the mildest type of heat rash. It happens when the opening of the sweat duct on the skin’s surface (sweat pore) is blocked. This form is distinguished by tiny, clear, fluid-filled bumps that easily break.
  • Miliaria rubra is a type that develops deeper in the skin. Prickly heat is another name for it. Small, inflammatory blister-like blisters and itching or prickling in the affected area are signs and symptoms.
  • Miliaria pustulosa occurs when the inflamed bumps of miliaria rubra occasionally fill with pus. 
  • Miliaria profunda is a less common type of heat rash. It affects the skin’s deepest layer (dermis). It produces firm, painful, or itchy inflamed bumps that resemble goose bumps and may rupture.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, develops when the body’s heat-regulating mechanism is overwhelmed by high temperatures. It is a life-threatening situation that necessitates quick medical intervention. The most common symptoms of a heat stroke are:

  • Warm, dry skin
  • High fever, usually over 104° F
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Lethargy
  • Stupor
  • Seizures, coma, and death are possible

We will discuss how to treat someone suffering from a heat stroke later on in this article.

Workplace Safety: How Does the Body Stay Cool?

If your job keeps you out in the sun all day, it is important for you to know how to regulate your body temperature and combat heat-related illnesses and injuries. 

The method through which your body maintains a healthy core temperature is known as thermoregulation. The hypothalamus is a part of your brain that regulates your body’s temperature. It stimulates receptors in your skin and other organs, causing you to lose heat while maintaining a normal core temperature. 

As your body becomes extremely hot, sweat evaporates from your skin to remove heat. If the pace of heat entering your body exceeds the rate of heat leaving your body, your core temperature will rise. This puts you at risk of heat-related illness.

Heat Stress at Work

Heat stress can occur in workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments. Any of the heat-related illnesses or injuries described above can be caused by heat stress. Heat can also raise the risk of workplace injuries by causing sweaty hands, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and fatigue.

How To Deal With a Heat Stroke at Work

  1. Call a manager for assistance. Call 911 if the manager is unavailable.
  2. As soon as assistance arrives, have someone sit with the worker.
  3. Transfer the employee to a cool, shaded area.
  4. Remove their outer clothing
  5. Apply ice, fan the worker, and mist with water (ice bags or ice towels).
  6. If you can, give them cool water to drink.

If the employee is unresponsive or appears confused, this could be due to a heat stroke. Apply ice immediately and dial 911 right away. It is crucial to remember that taking precautions to avoid heat-related illnesses or accidents is the most effective course of action. We will discuss preventative measures in more detail in the section below.

How To Prevent Heat Stress According to OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires every employer to provide a safe and healthful work environment for their employees. Implementing heat-stress prevention techniques in the workplace is a great way to fulfill this responsibility. Some crucial elements of heat stress prevention in the workplace are:

  • Establish an extensive program to prevent heat illness.
  • Provide training on the hazards that may lead to heat stress and how to avoid them.
  • Workers near the work area should have access to plenty of cool water. This requires at least one pint of water per hour.
  • Change work schedules and plan frequent breaks for rest and water in cool or shaded areas.
  • Increase workloads gradually, and provide more frequent breaks so that new or recently returned employees can get used to working in the heat (acclimatization).
  • Assign a responsible individual to keep an eye on the work environment and guard any workers who may become overheated.
  • Wear protective clothing that is breathable.

Protecting Yourself While Working

Once employers establish heat stress prevention programs and policies in the workplace, it then becomes the employee’s responsibility to take the necessary precautions in keeping themselves safe. Even with a prevention program and policies in place, if employees are not actively following these guidelines, they will have nothing protecting them against heat stress and life-threatening heat stroke. Some of the precautions that employees should take are: 

  • Know the warning signs and symptoms of heat illness, keep an eye on yourself, and use the buddy system.
  • Avoid the direct sun and other sources of heat.
  • Drink a lot of water. Drink frequently and prior to feeling thirsty. Every 15 minutes, drink some water.
  • Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
  • Wear appropriate loose-fitting, light-colored clothing that is easy to move in.

Heat Stress Toolbox Talk Article

Tom was a landscaper that loved working outdoors. It was a hot summer day reaching temperatures above 90°F (32°C). Tom was working hard to meet his client’s deadline for the project. Later in the day, Tom began to feel a little fatigued. Thinking he was only tired; he began to work harder in hopes of finishing sooner. 

As Tom kept working, his fatigue grew worse. Eventually, he blacked out, falling to the ground. Fortunately, Tom’s coworkers were able to get him to the hospital. Tom was treated for heat stroke due to dehydration and overworking himself. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance.