Here’s How to Prevent Outdoor Heat Illness for Workers

As temperatures soar during the summer, outdoor workers face increased risks of heat-related illnesses. Whether you’re in construction, agriculture, landscaping, or any other field that requires outdoor labor, staying safe in the heat is paramount. Heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, can be severe and even life-threatening if not addressed promptly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 436 workplace deaths between 2011 and 2021 due to exposure to high heat, or roughly 40 a year. Since most of those accidents occurred in the summer, that’s well over one death a week on the job for workers who are exposed to heat during the hottest months. Let’s explore effective strategies to prevent outdoor heat illness and ensure the well-being of workers.

Understanding heat illness

Before we dive into prevention measures, it’s crucial to understand the different types of heat-related illnesses:

  • Heat Rash—A minor heat-related ailment characterized by irritated skin due to excessive sweating.
  • Heat Cramps—Painful muscle contractions caused by dehydration and loss of electrolytes.
  • Heat Exhaustion—Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, nausea, headache, and fainting, which result from dehydration and overheating.
  • Heat Stroke—A medical emergency marked by a high body temperature (above 103°F/39.4°C), confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal if left untreated.

Beat the heat prevention strategies

Below are steps you can implement with your employees to help encourage heat illness prevention.

  • Hydration
    • Encourage workers to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Aim for at least one cup every 15–20 minutes.
    • Provide access to cool, potable water on-site and discourage the consumption of sugary or caffeinated beverages, which can exacerbate dehydration.
    • Educate workers on the importance of electrolyte balance and consider providing electrolyte-enhanced drinks or oral rehydration solutions.
  • Schedule Breaks
    • Implement a schedule that includes frequent breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. Encourage workers to rest during these breaks to cool down and replenish fluids.
    • Adjust work hours to avoid the hottest parts of the day, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its peak.
  • Protective Clothing
    • Provide lightweight, breathable clothing that covers the skin to protect against sun exposure and reduce the risk of sunburn.
    • Consider outfitting workers with wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen with a high SPF to shield against harmful UV rays.
  • Training and Education
    • Conduct heat illness prevention training for all workers, emphasizing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and the importance of early intervention.
    • Train supervisors to recognize signs of distress and empower them to take immediate action, including calling for medical assistance if necessary.
  • Engineering Controls
    • To create cooler work environments, utilize engineering solutions such as shade structures, fans, misting systems, or portable air conditioning units.
    • Explore alternative work methods or automation to minimize strenuous physical exertion during extreme heat conditions.
  • Acclimatization
    • Gradually expose workers to hot conditions over days or weeks to allow their bodies to adapt to the heat.
    • New or returning workers, as well as those who have been away from work for an extended period, should undergo a re-acclimatization process.

Preventing outdoor heat illness requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses hydration, scheduling, protective measures, training, engineering controls, and acclimatization. By implementing these strategies, employers can create safer work environments and protect the health and well-being of outdoor workers during hot weather conditions.

Remember, heat illness is preventable, but it requires vigilance, preparation, and a commitment to prioritizing worker safety above all else.

ICW Group has various heat illness prevention webinars, posters, and training materials available to help you and your employees “Beat the Heat and Keep Cool” this summer.

Stacey DeVries
Stacey DeVries
Stacey joined the ICW Group Risk Management team in November 2016 and provides service across the Central Florida region. Stacey has a BA in Public Relations from Western Michigan University with minors in Journalism and Graphic Arts. She has worked in the insurance industry for 15 years with roles in Workers’ Compensation claims adjustment, Voluntary Life and Disability Insurance Enrollment, Disability Insurance Product Management, and providing leadership and guidance as part of ICW’s Customer Care team before moving into the Risk Management Consultant role. Her professional certifications include Associate in Risk Management (ARM), Advanced Safety Certificate (ASC), Health Insurance Associate (HIA), Disability Income Associate (DIA) & Disability Health Professional (DHP), Associate in Insurance (AINS) and she is an Authorized OSHA Construction Trainer.

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