Heat-related illness is preventable, especially with management commitment to providing the most effective controls. An effective heat-related illness prevention program is incorporated in a broader safety and health program and aligns with OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs core elements.
Workers who have not spent time recently in warm or hot environments and/or being physically active will need time to build tolerance (acclimatize or, less frequently used, acclimate) to the heat. During their first few days in warm or hot environments, employers should encourage workers to:
- Consume adequate fluids (water and sport drinks)
- work shorter shifts,
- take frequent breaks, and
- quickly identify any heat illness symptoms.
Engineering controls such as air conditioning, with cooled air, and increased air flow, leading to increased evaporative cooling, can make the workplace safer. Other options for keeping body temperatures down in warm environments include making changes to workload and schedules. For example, empower supervisors and workers to slow down physical activity like reducing manual handling speeds or scheduling work for the morning or shorter shifts with frequent rest breaks in the shade or at least away from heat sources. Supervisors can encourage workers in warm environments to drink hydrating fluids. At a minimum, all supervisors and workers should receive training about heat-related symptoms and first aid.
Heat-related illnesses can have a substantial cost to workers and employers. Heat stress can cause fine motor performance (like rebar tying or keyboarding) to deteriorate even in acclimatized individuals. Heat illness can contribute to decreased performance, lost productivity due to illness and hospitalization, and possibly death. OSHA encourages water, rest, and shade as prevention as well as treatment for heat-related illness.