Heat Stress Awareness

Increasing Temperatures Means Increase in Heat Hazards

Published on Thursday, May 23, 2019

Summer is here and with it comes the dangers associated with heat, especially for those working in the heat throughout the summer months. It is important that workers know the dangers associated with extreme heat and are educated on ways to prevent and treat illness that arises as a result of increasing temperatures.

A heat hazard occurs when the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, which affects the body's ability to rid itself of heat. Other factors like humidity, bodily fluids and salts also affect this process. If the body cannot get rid of heat it stores, it causes the body's core temperature to rise. When the body stores too much heat the person will begin to lose concentration, may become irritable or sick, and lose the desire to drink. Following stages are fainting and even death. According to OSHA, each year dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill due to working in extreme heat. More than 40 percent of those who die due to heat exposure work in the construction industry. 

This is a preventable affliction! Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for protecting workers from extreme heat. A heat illness prevention program should be enacted by employers whose workforce is exposed to high temperatures. 

To prevent heat illness, OSHA recommends employers remember three keywords: water, rest, and shade. Engineering controls such as air conditioning, increased ventilation, cooling fans, reflective shields, and insulation can also be enacted to reduce the potential for heat stress. Work practices should be modified to account for high temperatures. An emergency plan should be created to notify workers what to do if a worker shows signs of heat illness. Slowly acclimating workers to the heat and incorporating work/rest cycles can also be effective forms of prevention. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as air conditioning backpacks and ventilation garments are also methods of prevention. 

Risk levels of heat hazards begin to increase when the temperature reaches 91 degrees. At this temperature the risk level is moderate and employees should begin to implement precautions and use heightened awareness. At 103 degrees the risk level becomes high. Additional precautions should be used to protect workers. At greater than 115 degrees the risk is very high to extreme and workers should utilize even more protective measures. Other factors to watch out for are an increase in humidity, increase in sun strength, little air movement, no controls in place, and strenuous work. 

OSHA recommends that workers use the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature to find the most accurate measurements for heat hazards. The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature measures temperature, humidity, wind speed, and radiant heat. More information about heat stress can be found on the OSHA Alliance portion of our Partners page

BCSP hopes everyone has a safe and happy summer and remember to be safe if you're working in hot conditions!