With temperatures hitting the mid- to upper-90s, there is no doubt that summer is here! For those organizations that employ individuals who spend a significant amount of time working outside (construction workers, HVAC workers, delivery personnel, agricultural workers, landscaping/yard maintenance workers, etc.), it’s time to put a plan in place to make sure those employees don’t suffer from heat-related illnesses.

Individuals who work in direct sunlight, perform prolonged or strenuous work and/or wear heavy protective clothing are most vulnerable to heat related illnesses such as sunburn, heat rash, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or heat cramps.

Employers can prevent employees from succumbing to these illnesses by implementing the following practices:

  • Require employees to drink water every 15 minutes…even if they aren’t thirsty
  • Provide more frequent breaks to employees
  • Provide shaded areas, if possible, in which employees can take breaks
  • Require employees to wear hats and light-colored clothing
  • Teach employees and supervisors how to recognize the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
  • Give temporary or newly hired employees an opportunity to acclimate themselves to the hot environment

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has a web page dedicated to the prevention of heat-related illnesses at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html and they have published the following chart on recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illnesses along with recommended first aid:

Illness Symptoms First Aid*
Heat stroke
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature
  • Call 911

While waiting for help:

  • Place worker in shady, cool area
  • Loosen clothing, remove outer clothing
  • Fan air on worker; cold packs in armpits
  • Wet worker with cool water; apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available
  • Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible
  • Stay with worker until help arrives
Heat exhaustion
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Fast heart beat
  • Have worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area
  • Give worker plenty of water or other cool beverages to drink
  • Cool worker with cold compresses/ice packs
  • Take to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.
  • Do not return to work that day
Heat cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain
  • Usually in abdomen, arms, or legs
  • Have worker rest in shady, cool area
  • Worker should drink water or other cool beverages
  • Wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work
  • Have worker seek medical attention if cramps don’t go away
Heat rash
  • Clusters of red bumps on skin
  • Often appears on neck, upper chest, folds of skin
  • Try to work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible
  • Keep the affected area dry
  • Redness and pain
  • In severe cases swelling of skin, blisters, fever, headaches
  • Apply ointments for mild cases.
  • If blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing.
  • Serious, extensive cases should be seen by physician.


* Remember, if you are not a medical professional, use this information as a guide only to help workers in need.

Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. HCCMO members receive discounted rates on all EAF classroom training at EAF’s training center in Longwood. Click here for currently scheduled programs: http://www.eafinc.org/online_store/training/HCCMO/training_programs.pdf.

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