Why Heat Related Workplace Injuries Need to be a Top Priority to Occupational Health and Safety Managers

Heat related workplace injuries are a threat to employees in a number of heavy-duty industries, including:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Oil and gas
  • Transportation
  • Warehousing
  • Food processing
  • Mining
  • Agriculture
  • Firefighting

Workers in these industries are at elevated risk of developing heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, elevating the need for safety measures being implemented for workplace injury protection. Occupational health and safety managers are responsible for implementing this heat-related protection, and there are proven methods for doing so. Here, we’ve included four ways occupational safety managers can make heat injury prevention a priority for their workplaces.

Heat Hazards in the Workplace: By the Numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is responsible for tracking workplace injuries, including heat related injuries. According to its 2011-2020 data, there were 33,890 heat injuries severe enough to result in missed work time. That’s an average of just under 3,400 heat-related illnesses in the workplace annually. The BLS’s fatal occupational injury census also estimates that between 1992 and 2021, 999 workers died due to environmental heat exposure. That’s an average of 33 fatalities every year.

However, the BLS data is believed to vastly underestimate the real problem due to the following factors:

  • Limitations in employee and employer reported data
  • Different interpretations of what constitutes a heat injury by medical personnel
  • Unreported health conditions that may have been exacerbated by heat exposure
  • Latent, late-onset symptoms caused by the heat illness
  • A large variance in heat illness symptoms and their influence on decision making

Together, these factors make it impossible to accurately gauge heat risks, and it’s likely that the number of heat injuries and illnesses is higher than reported.

Four Things Occupational Safety Managers Can Do to Make Heat Illnesses a Priority

Thousands of workers are injured every year by excessive heat exposure and dozens are killed. For businesses operating in high-risk industries, heat safety can be a matter of life and death. Here’s what employers can do to protect their workers from heat-related illness:

1) Establish a heat-specific safety plan

Employers are not required to author a safety plan, but they do help with regulatory compliance and are therefore highly recommended. A heat-specific safety plan goes a step further and prioritizes heat injury prevention.

Your heat safety plan should include the following:

  • Documentation that identifies the location and nature of all heat hazards. This could be a list, a diagram, a floor plan, or other supporting documentation
  • An inventory of all heat related medical supplies and their location
  • A list of emergency procedures should a worker develop heat illness
  • Contact information for a nearby medical facility
  • The names and contact information for everyone responsible for enforcing the safety plan

Your company’s heat safety plan is a primary safety training resource. As such, it should be used by managers to enforce heat illness prevention efforts and ensure all workers abide by them.

2) Make heat safety a priority with your safety signage

Heat safety is a matter of vigilance. It’s important for workers to always be prepared when environmental heat has reached unsafe levels or when exertion may cause unsafe conditions. To ensure your employees are always ready, consider investing in additional safety signage. Employers are required to point out potential workplace hazards, and safety signage is a proven way to do this.

Occupational safety signage can be customized for heat hazards and used to point out where workers are at a high risk of heat exposure. For example, such signage would be a good fit near:

  • Ovens
  • Furnaces
  • Foundries
  • Boiler rooms
  • Interior areas where sunlight is present
  • Areas where high exertion work is present

By placing heat safety signage near these areas, occupational health and safety managers can ensure their employees are on alert around high-risk areas.

3) Equip your workers with heat safety resources

Employees should have easy access to cooling stations that supply water, shade, air conditioning and rest. If a worker is affected by heat stress, moving them to one of these cooling stations is recommended for a rapid first line of treatment. Workers should also be given regular breaks where they can recover at a cooling station.

In addition to well-stocked cooling stations, occupational safety managers can protect their workers by providing them with valuable information. As the temperature and workplace conditions change, it’s important for workers to identify these changes as soon as they occur. One way to do this is to supply employees with temperature-taking tools like liquid crystal thermometers (LCTs). LCTs are light, easy to use and provide an accurate temperature reading within seconds. LCTs can also be integrated into employee TWIC cards, so workers can put them in an open toolbox, wear then on lanyards, or carry them in a pocket. In seconds, workers can get an accurate reading of current workplace conditions and adjust accordingly.

4) Train employees to recognize and respond to the signs of heat illness

No matter what heat safety measures your company has in place, your workers must be ready to respond to heat illness when it emerges. That means knowing the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Those symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating or complete lack of it
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Elevated body temperature

If any signs of heat illness are present, your workers should have an emergency action plan (EAP) that kicks in immediately. Your EAP should specify any emergency response measures, point out the location of any emergency medical supplies, dictate where workers are to receive medical attention and who should be notified in the event of a heat related emergency.

Before beginning work in any hazardous environment, employees should be trained on the company’s EAP and on the nature of heat illness. New workers should also have time to acclimate to workplace heat sources and the company’s heat safety processes.

Make Heat Related Workplace Injuries a Priority With Improved Safety Standards

Heat hazards are a threat to workers, and the consequences of excessive heat exposure can be fatal. Occupational health and safety managers are the most important line of defense against deadly heat hazards, but safety managers have measures they can take to protect employees. Developing a heat safety plan, installing safety signage, investing in heat safety resources and focused safety training can make the difference in shielding workers from deadly heat exposure on the job.

Why Heat Awareness Still Matters in Winter

Why Heat Awareness Still Matters in the Winter

Many workers are still exposed to heat risks during the winter, even when temperatures are plummeting outside. That’s because indoor workers may labor in high-heat environments fraught with potential hazards, which is why heat awareness still matters in winter.

Employers are responsible for identifying risks on the job and protecting employees from them. This includes putting together a heat safety plan, adequately training workers on that plan, and providing workers with the resources they need to protect themselves, regardless of the season.

Which Workers are at Risk of Heat Illness During the Winter?

Some indoor work environments put workers at a high risk of heat illness year-round. Some of those industries include:

  • Bakeries and commercial kitchens
  • Manufacturing centers with intense heat sources, such as concrete plants
  • Iron and steel foundries
  • Facilities with boiler rooms – such as electrical utility stations
  • Commercial laundries
  • Warehouses

Workers in these environments require additional protections from heat hazards, even during the winter. Consider this – the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that, from 2011 to 2018, of the 20 workers who died of heat exposure, eight of them were indoor workers. Winter weather or not, indoor heat risks persist through the season.

Common Causes of Indoor Heat Exposure

Many employers make the mistake of assuming that because their workers are inside, they are shielded from extreme temperatures. But this isn’t always the case. Indoor workers may still be affected by excessive heat due to the following:

  • Intense local heat sources – Furnaces and ovens can output intense blasts of heat and create pockets of dangerous thermal activity. Bakeries, food processing centers and foundries are examples. In these settings, focusing temperature sensors and safety efforts near high-thermal zones makes sense.
  • Heavy exertion – Extended heavy exertion can raise a worker’s body temperature to dangerous levels, even during the winter. Employers cannot assume that low ambient air temperatures are enough to protect workers engaged in heavy duty work. This is especially true for new workers who haven’t had time to adjust.
  • Protective wear and equipment – Protective clothing and equipment (PPE) reduces air flow to the worker’s skin. As such, people wearing PPE are at risk of heat illness when exerting themselves. External heat sources may worsen the effects of PPE.
  • Insufficient or inefficient cooling technology – Poor air circulation and insufficient cooling are common causes of indoor overheating. It’s important to verify that your facility’s HVAC technology can handle the heating load that your workers and equipment generate. Regular maintenance is also essential and is considered part of an employer’s general duty to their employees.

When indoor workers experience heat illness – heat exhaustion and heat stroke, for example – the above factors are typically present.

Federal and State Safety Standards for Occupational Heat Hazards

Federal and state agencies recognize the potential for heat illness during the winter. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) general duty clause requires employers to provide a work environment that is free of hazards that could cause serious or fatal injury. This extends to hazards that could cause heat illness.

Some states have implemented additional heat hazard provisions to protect workers. Those states include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Minnesota (with specific provisions for indoor heat safety)
  • Oregon
  • Washington

This demonstrates that heat awareness still matters in the winter for employers.

How to Protect Workers from Heat Illnesses During the Winter

Heat is an invisible killer, but there are clear steps that employers can take to prevent heat from threatening employees. Those steps include:

  • Developing a heat-specific safety plan – OSHA does not require employers to have a detailed safety plan in writing, but it does require all employers and managers to be aware of potential workplace hazards. So even though it isn’t required, developing a heat safety plan can help organize your company’s safety efforts and protect your crew. If heat exposure is a risk to your indoor workers, a heat-specific safety plan will ensure no heat hazard is left unchecked. Your plan should identify all potential heat hazards in the work environment and specify measures to protect people from them. Further, your plan should name who is accountable for enforcing those measures.This plan will serve as the foundation for your heat safety processes. It will also be used to train workers.
  • Training employees on heat safety protocols – Once your company has established a heat safety plan, you will need to communicate the plan to workers. Set aside time to train workers on heat risks as this will encourage employees to take ownership of their own safety and the safety of others.
  • Acclimating new employees – Workers who haven’t had time to adjust are more likely to experience heat illness. Most occupational heat-related deaths involve people who have only been on the job for a short time. As such, it is extremely important for employers to give new workers a chance to acclimate to elevated temperatures. This includes gradually scaling up the length of work shifts, providing additional breaks and closely monitoring new workers for any signs of heat illness. Free access to water and cooling stations are also critical.
  • Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat illness – Although heat illness can emerge suddenly, there is usually a short window during which it can be treated before it becomes an emergency. However, your workers and managers must be familiar with the signs and symptoms of heat illness to act. Heat exhaustion is characterized by excessive sweating, cold or clammy skin, weakness, fatigue, confusion, nausea, vomiting, a weak pulse, headaches and dizziness. Heat stroke presents with red and dry skin, body temperature in excess of 103 degrees, a strong pulse, profound confusion and dizziness, slurred speech and loss of consciousness. The goal for managers and coworkers is to notice when a worker may be affected by minor heat injuries. When detected, removing workers for prompt treatment is critical. Vigilance saves lives.
  • Monitoring indoor temperatures and work conditions – Being proactive is important if heat is a threat. Work conditions can change rapidly and become hazardous before anyone realizes it, especially if there aren’t heat monitoring resources in place. Temperature-tracking tools can alert safety personnel to potentially dangerous conditions indoors. Temperature sensors should be placed near known heat sources and used to determine when heat levels are unsafe. For optimal safety, empower workers to track temperatures on their own. A simple and cost-effective way to do this is with TWIC cards embedded with liquid crystal thermometers (LCTs). LCTs provide a quick, accurate temperature reading. TWIC cards are inexpensive, lightweight, and can give workers advance notice of elevated temperatures before safety personnel need to intervene. This can give your workers the advantage in identifying dangerous conditions before they cause heat illness.

The above measures will improve your team’s ability to respond to heat-related emergencies before they cause serious or fatal injury. Or, even better, prevent those emergencies from happening in the first place.

Heat Awareness Still Matters in Winter, So Keep Your Crews Prepared

Excessive heat can cause serious injury or death, even during the winter. As such, employers are required – as per OSHA’s general duty clause – to put heat safety measures in place. Fortunately, these measures are simple and inexpensive to implement. They include devising a heat-specific safety plan, raising heat awareness among workers, and investing in safety resources like LCTs and other temperature monitoring tools.

Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities

The Importance of Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities

Heat illnesses and injuries are on the rise in the U.S., and this trend is also true of indoor workers. Shielded from outdoor heat exposure, it’s common for employers to overlook the importance of heat awareness in manufacturing facilities.

Given the severe, potentially fatal nature of heat illness, employers are required to take measures in preventing and responding to heat illnesses experienced by their employees.

Regulators are Emphasizing Improved Heat Awareness and Safety in Manufacturing Facilities

According to the EPA, the number of heat waves (defined by a four-day stretch of high temperatures above the 10-year average) has tripled since 1990. Unsurprisingly, heat injuries and illnesses have climbed alongside this trend, leading OSHA to begin discussions about national heat safety standards.

There are early signs that OSHA is getting tougher in this regard. In October 2021, the administration published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) – the first public step that OSHA takes before implementing new safety standards. The October 2021 ANPRM was specific to outdoor and indoor heat hazards, so it’s clearly an OSHA priority.

In April 2022, OSHA enacted a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that included three participating states – California, Minnesota, and Washington. The NEP is a three-year program that gives OSHA authority to perform on-the-spot workplace inspections for heat hazards. OSHA has inspected more than 1,500 businesses already in this fashion, and the resulting information will be used to further develop heat safety standards.

In the most recent update in November 2023, OSHA surveyed small businesses and interfaced with small business advocacy groups to gain further insight into heat safety implementation.

While it’s true that government maneuvers can take a long time to realize, there are clear signs that OSHA will launch new heat safety standards in the near future.

Common Heat Hazards in Manufacturing Facilities

OSHA’s interest in heat safety extends indoors as there are several hazards specific to manufacturing facilities and industrial centers. Heat-related risks may be elevated among employees working indoors, especially if the following factors are present:

  • Heat generating equipment and machinery – Milling machines, turning machines, presses and grinders all output significant amounts of heat that spills into the environment and puts workers at risk of heat illness. If the equipment is poorly insulated, it can cause an immediate heat hazard around the machinery’s operating area.
  • Other radiant heat sources – Other sources of radiant heat in manufacturing facilities include ovens, furnaces, and kilns. Each can output intense levels of thermal energy, requiring workers to don protective gear that increases heat risks.
  • Lack of air movement – Air circulation is essential for venting heat out of the facility and preserving safe working environments. In manufacturing centers, strategic fan and HVAC vent placement will help circulate cooler air through the facility. In warehouses, hangars, and other large industrial centers, opening up a large bay door can promote better air circulation.
  • Constant physical labor – Modern manufacturing facilities rely on automation to an extent, but there is still plenty of manual labor happening. With workers in constant motion, exertion-related heat must be factored in. If your employees do a lot of lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying, your facilities will need measures in place to offset that additional thermal output.
  • Heavy protective clothing – Personal protective equipment (PPE) may include heavy clothing that traps heat, causing the worker’s body temperature to rise, even if they’re standing in one spot. If there are other hazards at your facilities that demand safety wear, consider the additional thermal burden on employees.
  • Exposure to sunlight – Sunlight means heat, so if it’s cascading in through windows or open doors, your facilities will have additional thermal energy to contend with. It’s easy to dismiss a patch of sunlight here or there in a manufacturing facility, but it can be a threat if additional heat risks are present, like poor air circulation or heavy protective wear.

These hazards are in addition to extreme outdoor temperatures, which can also influence the relative heat levels inside buildings. Clearly, there are several heat-related risk factors to account for, but there are steps employers can take to lower the risk of heat illness affecting their employees.

How to Improve Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities

The key to preventing heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat illnesses is awareness. If workers are aware of heat stress symptoms and dangers, they can take the appropriate action before a situation becomes critical. Here is what employers can do to improve heat awareness in manufacturing facilities:

  • Developing a heat illness prevention plan – Every workplace must have a safety plan in place per OSHA regulations. With the level of heat danger and heat fatalities on the rise, employers are also encouraged to develop a heat-specific safety plan that tackles heat illnesses specifically.

This plan should include everything else on this list, as well as the plan’s training and implementation procedures.

  • Training each worker on the plan’s details – Every employee should undergo heat safety training, using the procedures and practices derived from your heat safety plan. Training typically includes pointing out heat hazards, noticing the symptoms of heat illness, the location and use of all heat safety resources (such as water or cooling stations), and emergency procedures should severe heat illness occur.
  • Identifying where heat hazards are likely to emerge – All heat safety plans should point out the location and nature of any heat hazards present at the facility. Consider including maps and floor plans to assist with this communication to facility staff and visitors.
  • Keeping an eye on environmental conditions – Working conditions can change quickly, so it’s important for your staff to monitor temperatures in real time. As environmental conditions change, your heat safety plan may call for additional measures, such as implementing work rotations or mandatory cooling breaks.
  • Investing in heat safety resources – An inexpensive and effective way to track temperature is to provide employees with liquid crystal thermometers (LCTs). LCTs are accurate within a degree or two and can provide a reading within seconds. The thermometers are practically weightless and can be scaled down to fit into a TWIC card or something similar. With LCT-integrated TWIC cards, your workers can wear their temperature-tracking tool on a lanyard or place it in a pocket.

Additional heat safety resources include heat safety signage, which is used to point out high-risk areas, first aid stations, showers, and other points of interest when a heat emergency develops. OSHA considers safety signage to be an irreplaceable aspect of worker safety, so investing in it now will keep your facilities compliant for longer.

  • Develop heat emergency protocols – Even with robust prevention methods in place, heat illness remains a threat to industrial workers. A heat safety plan should formalize any emergency response to optimize response time and effectiveness.

Emergency measures typically include moving the worker to a cool area, applying cool water or towels to the skin of the affected employee, administering fluids if possible, and contacting emergency medical personnel right away. It’s standard practice for a heat safety plan to include contact information for a nearby hospital or medical facility.

Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities Can Save Lives

Heat illnesses and fatalities are becoming more common for workers across many industries and in many work settings. This includes indoor work settings like manufacturing facilities.

It’s a common but potentially costly mistake for facility operators to discount the severity of potential heat hazards, but there can be fatal consequences.

A proven approach to undercutting those hazards is preparation. Specifically, preparing workers with heat-specific training and resources. LCTs and safety signage are two examples of budget-friendly items that can boost heat awareness and safety in manufacturing facilities. Speak with your heat-aware specialist to see how you can protect your employees.

The Benefits of a Heat Management System

Advantages of Implementing a Heat Management System

Thermal threats are mounting at worksites around the country. Heat waves are increasing in intensity and duration, according to the World Health Organization, and this trend will likely continue, making a heat management system a must for worker safety.

Work crews are bearing the brunt of this extreme heat, leaving them exposed to potential heat illnesses that can cause permanent, even fatal injury.

A heat management system, when properly implemented, is designed to push back against this risk. There are numerous elements that may be included in a thermal management system, but the bottom line is that they provide workers with resources, processes and information that can prevent heat illness.

Here, we’ll address what an ideal heat management system typically includes and how it can support worker safety.

Why Heat Management Matters

Thermal stresses are largely dictated by ambient weather conditions. Temperature, relative humidity, sun exposure and wind speed are all important considerations. Weather, though, is only one factor. Thermal risks are also exacerbated by activity levels, the worker’s age and health, clothing or protective equipment, the presence of major heat sources (furnaces, for example), and other considerations.

With the above factors in play, there may be an elevated risk of heat illness even when ambient conditions aren’t a factor.

Regardless of where excess heat is coming from, if thermal dangers are present on your worksite, it’s time to develop a heat management system.

Heat illnesses range in severity – from minor heat rash, to heat syncope (brief loss of consciousness), and even life-threatening conditions like heat stroke. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dozens of workers are killed by heat illness every year and hundreds of thousands are injured. Given the nature of heat injury reporting and its nonspecific symptoms, it’s highly possible that these numbers are lower than reality.

Major and fatal injuries are typically the result of heat stroke. As the end stage form of heat illness, heat stroke can develop rapidly – seemingly out of nowhere in some cases – but it’s common for it to emerge and intensify over a short period of time. That means deadly heat illnesses can be prevented with the right precautions and treated with the right procedures. Determining what those precautions and procedures should look like – that’s the core of a heat management system.

What Should be Included in a Heat Management System?

Heat management systems are meant to be a comprehensive defense against thermal stresses. Here’s what that defense system should include:

  • A heat specific safety plan – Employers are required to have safety plans in place to maintain OSHA compliance. These plans typically address all the worksite’s hazards in a general way, but on sites where heat hazards are commonplace, it’s worth developing a heat-specific safety plan.

    A heat-specific plan points out the number, location and nature of heat hazards on the project site. This could be the location of heat sources or areas where poor air circulation or increased sun exposure may trigger heat illnesses.

    A heat-specific safety plan will also designate who is responsible for enforcing heat safety protocols (and their contact information), as well as an inventory and location of all medical resources dedicated to treating heat illness. Contact information for a nearby medical facility should also be included in such a plan.

  • Medical monitoring – Medical monitoring includes health screening prior to starting work on a project, and periodic checks thereafter. The goal of medical monitoring is to identify workers who may be at an elevated risk of heat illness. Safety countermeasures can be taken in response to this information.

    On worksites where heat risks are elevated, continuous medical monitoring (watching worker vitals) may be necessary.

  • An emergency action plan (EAP) – An EAP is required by OSHA on hazardous worksites and details what to do in the event of an emergency. EAPs are used to detail all potential hazards on a worksite, including heat emergencies. In this context, an EAP will dictate how to immediately respond to severe heat illness, what resources to use, and how to treat the condition until medical assistance can be secured – as well as how to seek medical assistance from a nearby medical facility.
  • Information resources – Information resources include occupational safety signage and heat monitoring tools. Safety signage and decals are excellent, ever-present reminders to take note of heat hazards and to take proper measures (like drinking enough fluids) to avoid heat illness.

    Monitoring heat levels is also critical, as ambient conditions can cross into dangerous territory gradually, often leaving workers caught unaware.

    One way to prevent this from happening is to equip workers with temperature monitoring tools they can easily and reliably use. A popular option is to provide field workers with liquid crystal thermometers (LCTs), as these can be embedded in a TWIC-style card. LCTs are accurate within a couple of degrees and can provide a reading within seconds. As TWIC cards are practically weightless and are easy to carry (using a lanyard or just placed in a toolbox), they are an ideal choice for busy workers who cannot leave their station.

  • Engineering controls – Engineering controls are used to mitigate the intensity of heat hazards or to help workers manage their effects. For example, providing cool, potable water at cooling stations, setting up fans or air conditioning, providing shade and reducing worker exertion by providing powered equipment (a forklift, for example) are all ways to reduce heat’s impact.

Employee Education and Acclimatization are also Important Factors of Heat Safety

The majority of severe heat illnesses occur in new workers. There may be several reasons for this, but it’s common for new workers to push themselves harder at first because they aren’t aware of heat dangers – or want to demonstrate their value to the team.

Given this fact, more employers are prioritizing acclimatization and safety education when bringing on new workers. Here’s what each includes:

  • Safety education – When a heat safety plan is modified or when new workers are brought on, it’s time to educate. Specifically, education on what the company’s heat safety policies are, what heat illness symptoms to look for, what to do in the event of a heat emergency, what safety resources are available, and how to use those resources. The goal is preparedness, so workers are ready if a heat emergency does occur.
  • Acclimatization – During the acclimatization process, new workers are required to slowly ramp up their activity over several days. A standard approach is to shorten work shifts for the first couple weeks of the project and to give new workers additional breaks to recover from heat exposure.

    During this time, the worker should be closely monitored for any signs of vulnerability to heat illness, and to ensure they follow proper heat safety protocols.

If Properly Designed and Implemented, a Heat Management System Can Save Lives

Heat is one of the most difficult hazards to avoid. During some parts of the year, heat is literally everywhere and often intense enough to cause serious illness if not accounted for.

Employers can protect their workers by investing in a thermal heat management system. By ensuring the right planning, equipment, and resources are in place, your work crews will always be aware and ready for extreme heat.

Why Heat Awareness is Essential for Occupational Safety Managers

Heat-related deaths are reaching new heights in the U.S., in part due to rising temperatures. Intense heat exposure also threatens workers, but they have more to contend with than environmental heat. Exertion-related heat should be considered, as well as heavy work clothing.

For occupational safety managers, these factors must be accounted for, as they can add up to serious heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

When Temperatures Rise, Heat Awareness Should As Well

Many work settings can be characterized as a thermal energy-rich environment. Construction sites, manufacturing facilities, outdoor warehouses and quarries are just a few examples of such worksites, but excess heat exposure can occur anywhere – even in office buildings.

Wherever heat hazards do emerge, heat illnesses are sure to follow if safety managers don’t take the proper precautions. These illnesses can manifest in one of several forms – heat rash is an example. For safety managers, though, the principal concerns are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion and stroke share many of the same symptoms, including mental symptoms such as confusion, altered mood, slurred speech, dizziness, or loss of consciousness. Both heat illnesses require immediate intervention, but heat stroke is a medical emergency that can leave workers permanently, perhaps fatally injured.

Heat Stress is Dangerous for Workers and Costly for Companies

Dozens of workers are killed by excess occupational heat every year, and thousands more are injured. The human cost of lax heat safety measures is severe, even when taking fatalities out of the equation.

Heat-related injuries can leave workers unable to recapture their prior productivity. According to the World Health Organization, about 2 percent of all working hours every year are lost due to heat stress – a huge bite that makes heat one of the country’s biggest productivity sieves.

For employers, protecting worker health is of paramount importance. What’s also important is ensuring production benchmarks are hit. Heat hazards can get in the way of that, but occupational safety managers can mitigate heat dangers if they maintain awareness of heat hazards and implement safety measures to mitigate them.

How Occupational Safety Managers Can Protect Employees from Heat-related Injury

Heat is dangerous, in part, because it is insidious. It slowly increases in intensity until it’s enough to overtake workers. The only way to protect against this subtle, creeping danger is with vigilance. If everyone at the worksite, including safety managers, are committed to spotting and mitigating heat risks, then it will be easier to protect employees – and easier to respond to a heat emergency if one does arise.

Occupational safety managers are largely responsible for establishing heat awareness and establishing risk-reduction initiatives. Such initiatives may include:

  • Developing a heat-specific safety plan – OSHA requires employers to have a site safety plan that addresses all risks at the worksite. This general safety plan is designed to cover all hazards, but there’s nothing stopping employers from developing hazard-specific safety plans to better mitigate the most prevalent or dangerous concerns.

    At worksites where heat exposure is an ever-present threat, a heat-specific safety plan makes sense. Inside a heat-specific plan, safety managers can identify where heat hazards are the most severe and what managers can do to protect against them. This includes pointing out vital resources (first aid stations, showers, etc.), splitting workers and safety managers into working groups for accountability purposes, and listing out emergency procedures should a worker experience heat illness.

  • Organizing heat safety training prior to the project’s start – Safety managers are responsible for keeping all employees and supervisory personnel on the same page regarding safety. This is also true of heat safety, and the best way to ensure this preparedness is with adequate pre-project training.

    Heat training doesn’t need to be complicated or last long – it merely needs to reinforce heat risk mitigation procedures. The value here is boosting heat awareness among workers and managers so everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency.

  • Assessing risk on a worker-by-worker basis – People respond to heat exposure differently, and this varied response should be accounted for so the most vulnerable workers can be properly protected.

    Age, fitness level, overall health, experience, and role all factor into a worker’s vulnerability to heat. Prior to beginning work, these factors should be taken into consideration for each worker, so safety-first work rotations and break patterns can be established.

  • Acclimating workers during the project’s early phases – The majority of heat-related worker deaths and injuries occur in the first couple weeks of a project’s start. If employees aren’t given time to adjust to hot conditions, they are far more likely to be overwhelmed by the heat. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that safety managers slowly ramp up work activity over several days, giving workers plenty of breaks and limiting exertion during this period.
  • Ensuring workers have heat monitoring resources on them – One of the best ways to ensure workplace safety is to give workers access to temperature taking tools. As the people on the front lines against the heat, it’s critical that workers be able to remain aware of dangerous heat indexes.

    An inexpensive and reliable way to do this is with a liquid crystal thermometer (LCT). LCTs are accurate within a degree or two and can be embedded in a simple TWIC card for maximum usability. Within seconds, workers can get an updated look at ambient temperatures and take steps to protect themselves from dangerous levels of heat and humidity.

  • Prioritizing heat-related first aid resources – Safety managers are responsible for maintaining adequate first aid resources onsite, and at worksites where heat hazards are present, heat injury supplies should also be present. This includes the basics, such as cold compresses, ice packs and running water. Also consider electrolyte tablets for severe dehydration cases.

    These supplies should be easily accessed by work crews and their location marked in the heat safety plan for quick reference.

Heat Awareness is Imperative for Workplace Safety

Heat is an ever-present killer during the summer months, so occupational safety managers need to remain on their guard. They also need to remain aware of heat hazards on their worksites. And beyond awareness, safety managers must be ready to respond to heat illnesses, with adequate emergency resources and to-the-minute information provided by temperature-taking tools.

A Guide to Protecting Work Crews from the Summer Heat

As numerous heat records were shattered across the U.S. in the summer of 2023, it meant that people working outside were at major risk of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat illness is an invisible, but quite capable killer that’s caused dozens of fatalities and thousands of injuries over the past several years. And it is believed that those numbers are vastly underreported, as many heat-related illnesses and deaths fall outside the purview of government regulators.

Employers are responsible for protecting their crews from heat hazards, and these protective measures must be reinforced at every level of the organization. In this guide, we’ll address what steps contractors can take to safeguard the health of their crews.

Judging Heat Conditions on Site: Don’t Focus Only on the Temperature

Elevated temperatures are an obvious heat-related danger, and as such, it’s important for supervisors to keep an eye on the thermometer. But there’s more to heat risk than temperature alone, as humidity, solar exposure, and wind speed all play a role as well.

For example, heat index values factor humidity into the equation and is therefore a useful alternative to temperature alone along the Gulf Coast, where high levels of summer humidity are expected.

Some contractors now use the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) – a metric utilized by the U.S. military for decades – that also factors in solar exposure and wind speed. In other words, WBGT is most relevant for people working in direct sunlight.

As actual, on-the-ground heat dangers vary with humidity, sun exposure and other factors, it’s recommended that contractors use heat index values to assess field conditions.

What Does OSHA Have to Say About Heat Safety?

OSHA doesn’t have heat-specific safety regulations on the books, but employers are still held to the General Duty Clause, which requires companies to identify and protect workers from any onsite hazards.

Employers can’t use “but there’s no OSHA heat safety standard” as an excuse, in other words.

The agency does have plenty of heat safety resources to draw from, though, including informational literature and tips for employers. This includes guidance on every part of the safety planning process, which can be extremely helpful for new contractors that don’t have an emergency action plan (EAP) in place.

Here are some practical tips for mitigating dangerous summer temperatures for every phase of the project.

Before the job begins: Create a Heat Safety Plan and Raise Awareness of Heat Hazards

Before mobilization, contractors should have a firm idea of the jobsite’s layout and where heat hazards are likely to emerge. For instance, if there’s a part of the site that’s exposed to dawn-to-dusk sunlight, it may be a good idea to avoid setting up any workstations in that area.

This is the kind of thinking that should be included in the project’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP). In fact, some contractors go a step further and draft a heat-specific safety plan. Given the extreme temperatures affecting some parts of the country (the south and southeast, most notably), heat-specific plans make a lot of sense. Each EAP should include the following:

  • The location and nature of any heat hazards on the jobsite. While trapped heat is usually a problem for interior work areas only, they can emerge on construction sites and other exterior work environments as well.
  • The location of any cooling stations or any air-conditioned areas. If heat illness does occur, moving the affected worker to a cool spot with shade is critical.
  • An inventory and location of all heat injury resources, such as cold packs, towels, and fluids.
  • A set of processes that specify what to do and who to contact should someone come down with heat illness.
  • The contact information for any nearby emergency medical institutions.

Once this plan is established, it must be communicated to all levels of leadership and to the workers themselves. Ideally, leadership and the crew would be involved in helping put together a heat safety plan. This will ensure that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of the company’s heat safety policies. Regular training, toolbox talks, and unscheduled drills are all worthy investments to ensure maximum heat safety awareness.

This training should also address what signs and symptoms of heat illness to look for, as other workers are likely to spot them first in their coworkers. They include:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Headache and muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

Invest in Tools That Monitor Heat Levels

If your workers can keep an eye on the temperature, they’ll be more aware of the heat and more likely to observe heat safety protocols.

The right tools are essential for jobsite safety, and when it comes to heat-related dangers, one such tool is a liquid crystal thermometer, as LCTs are compact, lightweight, and offer instant information about the temperature. LCTs can be encapsulated and scaled down to fit inside TWIC cards, which can be worn on a lanyard, kept in a pocket, or tossed in the toolbox. LCTs are accurate and can also include the company’s branding or additional heat safety information.

In this way, LCTs offer double advantages in safety and cost effectiveness, as they’re inexpensive to procure at volume and give workers a highly usable tool for remaining aware of the heat.

Get Workers Acclimated to the Heat and Set Up a Cooling Station

According to OSHA, about 75 percent of all heat-related deaths occur in the first week of the job. It takes time for the body to adjust to extreme heat stress, especially for people who aren’t accustomed to the climate or strenuous activity. To avoid overloading the team early on, OSHA recommends the 20 percent rule. The idea behind this is to slowly work up to full capacity in the sun over several days.

Assuming an 8-hour workday, using the 20 percent rule, workers should only spend one hour and 40 minutes (20 percent) in the sun during their first day on the project. They can spend the rest of the day working without heat stress. Every subsequent day, add another 20 percent in the sun until they’re up to full capacity. Some workers may need a bit longer to adjust, and it’s better to be safe than sorry, so allow for that time for adequate acclimation.

At the project’s outset, this is also the time to establish a cooling station. It should remain in the shade throughout the day and always have water available. Some contractors set up tents with circulating fans for additional heat relief, and if there’s an air-conditioned room they can access while cooling, even better.

Keep Safety Personnel on High Alert, Encourage Regular Breaks and Reduce Work Intensity in High Heat

During the peak of summer, there may be no relief from dangerously hot days. Where possible, shifting work to the evening or night hours is recommended, but noise ordinances may prevent this.

When work must be done during the day, being proactive is the rule. That means doing the following:

  • Enforcing regular water breaks. During high activity periods, giving workers a break every 15 minutes to drink fluids is recommended. Stick to water rather than caffeinated beverages.
  • Cycling work teams out of the sun regularly. If possible, cycling workers between sun-exposed and shaded workstations can reduce heat stress.
  • Occasionally taking worker vitals to spot early signs of heat stress. This should only be done by trained medical personnel.
  • Keeping the contact information for any medical authorities in an easily accessible place, so it can be instantly referenced in an emergency.

In general, the point is to remain on high alert while heat indexes are at their most punishing. The faster everyone responds to severe heat illness, the better the affected worker’s chances of fully recovering.

Summer Heat Can Be Fatal, but Employers Can Keep Their Team Safe with the Right Protective Measures

While summers have always been hot, recent summers have produced deadly levels of heat. For work crews, heat illnesses can emerge suddenly and may be severe, if not deadly. But with effective planning, emergency resources, cooling equipment, and a commitment to heat awareness, employers can keep their project sites and workers safe and heat injury free.

Practical Tips for Avoiding Heat Illness on the Job

The U.S. Department of Labor states that occupational heat illnesses are widely under-reported. And yet, dozens of workers die every year from heat stroke and thousands more are seriously injured. What’s worse is that almost every single one of those heat injuries would’ve been preventable with effective safety measures in place.

Those measures aren’t difficult to establish, however, and there are low-cost, high impact resources that can help support a safe workplace.

Here are five examples of practical tips for avoiding heat illness on the job:

1) Know the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Illnesses

Before heat illnesses progress to potentially fatal emergencies, there are usually noticeable signs of distress that others can respond to. Heat exhaustion, for example, typically presents prior to heat stroke, but it may progress to heat stroke within minutes. It’s therefore critical that safety personnel and workers know what signs to respond to.

The symptoms of heat illness are:

  • Heavy sweating or complete lack of it
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weak, racing pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Agitation
  • In severe instances, loss of consciousness may also be present

Sometimes, the above symptoms may come on quickly, but in many cases, the affected worker will demonstrate tell-tale signs in time to administer treatment. If provided promptly, treatment can stop minor heat illnesses from developing into something more serious.

That’s why everyone shares responsibility for detecting heat illness on the worksite. That includes the workers themselves, as they know their coworkers best and are usually right there when heat dangers are at their most intense.

2) Develop and Implement a Heat-Specific Safety Plan

According to OSHA regulations, every worksite is expected to have an emergency action plan (EAP) in place. At a minimum, the EAP must include:

  • The location of emergency exits and exit routes. These should be mapped onto a floorplan of the worksite.
  • What medical or fire authorities to contact in the event of an emergency.
  • How to alert employees when an emergency is in progress and how to contact family or next of kin, as well.

From OSHA’s perspective, that’s sufficient for an EAP, but employers overseeing hazardous worksites are expected to go a bit further with their safety planning. And on sites where dangerous levels of heat are expected, it makes sense for employers to develop a heat-specific safety plan. Such a plan should include the following:

  • The location and nature of any heat-related hazards on the job site. In areas like cement plants, mills, foundries, fabrication plants and other industrial centers, heat may concentrate in spots to the point where it results in hazardous conditions.
  • A series of procedures to be deployed should a heat-related emergency occur.
  • What processes are in place to monitor and mitigate any heat hazards.
  • An inventory of all heat-related medical resources and their locations on the worksite.
  • Contact information for a nearby emergency medical facility. Time is critical when treating heat illness, as it may only take minutes for symptoms to progress to something life-threatening. If heat stroke does occur, contacting the medical facility on file should be one of the first measures taken.

3) Ensure Onsite Safety Personnel are Prioritizing Heat Hazards

A heat safety plan is only effective if it’s implemented and practice drills are performed periodically. That’s where the company’s leadership must take charge. This starts with top-level management, but every link in the leadership chain, down to onsite safety and medical personnel should be on the same page regarding how to manage heat risks.

For example, when elevated temperatures are present, onsite medical personnel should regularly check worker vitals, including body temperature and pulse, to detect the early signs of heat illness. Safety personnel should also consider altering work practices when the heat and humidity is higher, such as rotating crews in and out of shade, enforcing water breaks and switching to light duty.

Maintaining safe conditions means being proactive, and this responsibility falls to the company’s management, and who it empowers to ensure safety.

4) Give Crews the Tools Needed to Monitor Temperatures

Safety planning and training are critical for reducing the risk of heat illness. Another important piece of the heat safety puzzle – investing in heat monitoring tools that workers can use in the field. After all, your field workers deal with the worst effects of heat exposure, so empowering them with better information can save lives. Even better, many of these resources are simple to use and inexpensive to invest in.

For example, many contractors provide their workers with TWIC cards that house liquid crystal thermometers that use thermochromic liquid crystals (TLCs) to measure heat levels. When exposed to heat, TLCs alter their orientation and physical structure – which also changes their optical qualities. In other words, TLCs change color with changing temperatures, and TWIC cards can be designed with microencapsulated pockets of these TLCs, so workers have a reliable, simple-to-use thermometer always on hand.

TWIC cards are inexpensive per unit and are extremely cost effective when purchased in volume. Contractors can therefore outfit their entire crew with temperature-taking equipment and safeguard them, without stressing the project’s budget.

5) Give Crews the Resources They Need to Treat Heat Illness

With heat illness, the best defense is preparation. That means preparing work crews for what to do if a heat-related emergency does occur. That includes the following:

  • Setting up a “cooldown area” that has shade and fluids for workers to drink. If a worker starts showing signs of heat exhaustion, they can stay out of the sun and rest here. Consider adding fans to circulate air through the area.
  • Identifying all sources of running water at the job site and ensuring this water can be accessed if a worker does experience heat illness.
  • Keeping a modest store of emergency heat illness supplies on hand, including towels, electrolyte tablets and ice packs.
  • Drilling workers on what to do if someone gives in to heat stress. This includes applying cold packs or water to the affected worker, contacting emergency personnel right away, and moving the person to a cooler environment.

By preparing for the worst-case scenario, workers can respond appropriately when heat illness occurs and potentially avoid a fatal outcome.

Heat Illnesses Can Cause Serious, Even Fatal Injury, So Provide the Tools Necessary to Keep Your Crews Safe

Heat can be a killer, and at some projects sites it’s also impossible to avoid. However, there are plenty of ways that contractors and work teams can mitigate the risk of heat illness.

Much of this boils down to preparedness, as heat illnesses can be treated and reversed with prompt action. As such, it’s important for contractors to have safety measures in place to respond when heat exhaustion or stroke does occur. And it’s also important for workers to have the temperature-taking tools they need to keep a close eye on heat levels. In this way, everyone from top leadership to field workers can remain safe and aware of the heat.

How to Recognize Heat Stroke on the Jobsite

Heat injuries send thousands of workers to the emergency room every year, and kill dozens in the process. Yet, every one of these injuries and deaths are preventable with the right safety processes and equipment in place.

The first step to heat injury prevention, though, is knowing what heat stroke looks like. Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat illness and can be fatal if not treated. Even if treated, heat stroke can result in permanent complications, so precautions are a must.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

Heat injuries progress from less severe to more severe quickly, and heat stroke is at the severe end of this progression. What begins as heat exhaustion – a non-emergency that resolves completely with treatment – progresses to heat stroke if the worker isn’t removed from hazardous conditions.

When heat stroke strikes, it presents with the following symptoms:

  • Elevated body temperature (can reach as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit or above)
  • Severe confusion or altered mental state
  • Excessive sweating or a complete lack of it
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Ataxia or loss of balance
  • Elevated or reduced blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness

Heat stroke is always a medical emergency and therefore requires emergency treatment to manage. Without treatment, heat stroke can be fatal, and delayed treatment can result in significant permanent injury, including traumatic brain injury.

Ideally, heat stroke is stopped before it emerges, when less severe forms of heat illness are present. Heat exhaustion, for example, presents with some of the same symptoms as heat stroke, but without the loss of consciousness or confusion that signals heat stroke. If workers and safety personnel are alert to these signs, then the person suffering from heat exhaustion can be removed and allowed to recover without an emergency response.

What is the Recommended Response if Heat Stroke is Suspected?

If heat stroke does emerge, an immediate response is required. In many cases, there’s only a short window of time to bring the person’s body temperature back into safe ranges, or the risk of permanent injury goes up. This could be as brief as 30 minutes, so time is of the essence.

The goal is to bring the patient’s body temperature down as quickly as possible. First, call 911 and ensure emergency personnel are enroute as soon as possible.

If waiting for emergency responders to arrive, measures must be taken to reduce the patient’s body temperature. The best way to do this is to immerse the patient in cold water. If that’s not possible, the patient’s clothing should be removed and cool water applied their skin. This can be done by soaking cloths in cold water and placing them on the afflicted person. The worker should be removed to a cool, shaded place for this, and ideally in an area with circulating air. Target the neck, armpits and groin when placing cloths or ice packs, as this is where heat tends to concentrate. Remain with the patient until emergency personnel arrive.

Heat Stroke is a Medical Emergency, so Organizations Need a Heat Safety Plan in Place

Given the potentially fatal nature of heat illnesses, many organizations opt to put together a heat-specific safety plan in place for their worksites. Such a plan typically includes the following:

  • The names and contact information of the people responsible for enforcing the plan
  • The name, address and contact information of a nearby emergency medical facility
  • The location and nature of any heat-related hazards on the job site
  • An action plan if a heat-related emergency occurs
  • The location of any onsite resources intended for treating heat illnesses
  • The preventative measures in place for heat-related emergencies

The point of this plan is to articulate what the company does to prevent heat illnesses. This may include checking worker vitals regularly, switching to an alternative work schedule or rotation, setting up hydration and cooling stations, or providing personnel with temperature-monitoring tools so they can respond when heat hazards are at their worst.

Monitoring the Temperature is Critical for Field Workers and Can Raise Awareness of Heat Stroke

100 percent of heat injuries can be prevented, and it’s easier to prevent those injuries if your field personnel know what conditions they’re facing. The problem is, the temperature can climb from hot to dangerously hot without anyone noticing, unless they’re monitoring temperature data.

This information is clearly most important for field employees where they work. That being the case, it makes sense to arm those employees with temperature-taking tools.

An inexpensive, easy-to-use and lightweight option are liquid crystal thermometers embedded in a twic card or something similar. Liquid crystal thermometers are reliable within a couple of degrees and can provide an instant check on ambient temperature.

A Heat Safety Plan Should Be Part of Every Cement Company’s Operations

Cement manufacturing plants are high-risk work zones. Chemical burns, excess noise, mechanical hazards, falling objects and airborne dust are some of the most common, but there’s another risk for cement companies to account for – heat.

In areas where heat is excessive, it can quickly lead to severe injuries if safety precautions aren’t taken. These precautions are generally simple, but they rely on strong planning and information to work – information like to-the-minute temperature data.

Heat is Always Present in Cement Plants, Making Heat Injuries a Significant Risk

Cement manufacturing plants generate intense heat, some of which escapes into the work environment. If poorly managed, the resulting rise in temperatures may put workers at risk. Further, workers are required to don protective wear that, while safeguarding the lungs, can trap thermal energy and put workers at increased risk of heat-related injury. This risk is higher still in hotter climates, like those along the Gulf Coast.

If a heat injury or illness does occur, it may take one of several forms, but heat exhaustion and heat stroke require the most attention. Here is how each one presents:

  • Heat exhaustion – Heat exhaustion is less serious than heat stroke, but it can quickly develop into a medical emergency. Signs of heat exhaustion include an elevated body temperature, weakness, dizziness, headaches or cramps, changes in mood and reduced urination. Workers experiencing heat exhaustion should receive prompt medical treatment, including transport to a medical facility in serious cases.
  • Heat stroke – Heat stroke is a medical emergency and may result in permanent or fatal injury if not immediately treated. When the body loses its ability to regulate its temperature, heat stroke is the result. As such, heat stroke can cause body temperature to spike in excess of 106 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. It may also cause profound confusion, an altered mental state, seizures, or loss of consciousness.

Heat is a silent killer, resulting in hundreds of deaths every year. With some basic precautions, though, many of those deaths can be prevented.

A Heat Safety Plan is Recommended for Cement Plants

The upside is that cement companies can plan around heat hazards and minimize their impact on worker safety. OSHA does not require organizations to have a heat safety plan in place, but they can make a big difference. Such a plan should include:

  • The personnel responsible for communicating and enforcing heat safety processes.
  • The location and nature of any heat hazards.
  • What medical facility to contact (and how to contact them) should a heat injury occur.
  • What onsite resources are available should a heat injury occur – and where to locate them.
  • What onsite resources are available to prevent heat injuries, such as cooling and water stations.
  • What measures and resources are in place to monitor temperature data.

A plan like this can be developed and communicated quickly to workers. It’s critical, though, that these procedures are enforced and backed up at the worker level. When a worker suffers a heat injury, the first people to notice are the people he’s working with. With safety plan training, those workers will be better equipped to notice heat injuries and properly respond to them.

An Effective Tool Against Heat Injuries: Easy-to-Carry Thermometers

As an invisible hazard, heat has a tendency to sneak up on workers and safety personnel. It can creep into dangerous territory without anyone noticing, at least not until a medical emergency occurs.

Constant temperature monitoring is the only way to keep an eye on heat hazards, but that can be prohibitively difficult in cement manufacturing facilities. Heat hazards may be present throughout the facility and may develop as work conditions change. The sheer scale of a cement facility adds to this difficulty.

One solution is to empower workers to track temperature data where they’re working. There’s no better way to get location-specific data, and it can be done quickly and inexpensively with the use of liquid crystal thermometers (LCTs).

The crystals inside LCTs respond to changes in temperature, specifically by rearranging themselves and contorting into different shapes. This changes their optical qualities – which we receive as a change in color. LCTs are inexpensive, accurate and can be incorporated into compact, lightweight items.

For example, LCTs can be embedded in TWIC sized heat cards that provide clear data about ambient temperature. Each card can feature additional information about heat injury symptoms or prevention methods. They can also feature the organization’s branding. They can be kept on a lanyard, in a toolbox, or even in the worker’s back pocket.

In this way, workers maintain constant heat awareness and can remove themselves from hazardous conditions as soon as they arise.

Give Cement Plant Workers the Tools to Protect Themselves from Heat-Related Injury

Cement plant workers rely on their company and their safety personnel to maintain a safe workplace. And from a safety standpoint, there’s a lot to consider at cement manufacturing facilities. Don’t forget to account for heat, though, as it’s certainly capable of fatal injury. That means developing a detailed heat safety plan and providing the resources your teams need to protect themselves.

Preparing Your Crew for the Summer Heat

Every year, summer heat kills dozens of workers and injures thousands more. As such, summer heat is a critical safety factor to account for. Heat exhaustion, and its deadlier cousin heat stroke, can produce life-threatening acute symptoms and long-term complications. Also, a single heat injury leaves people more susceptible to future heat injuries, so they’re a high priority risk.

If your crew’s busy season is the summer season, then it’s time to address workplace heat safety. That way, your crew will be ready for any weather they face.

Know the Signs and Consequences of Heat-Related Injury

The best defense against heat injury is attention. By paying attention and responding to the emerging signs of heat illness, the worst injuries can be avoided. Those at elevated risk of heat injury – the elderly and those with high blood pressure – may experience a more rapid and severe onset of symptoms.

There are multiple types of heat injuries, ranging in severity. They include:

  • Heat cramps – Heat cramps are a common first sign of heat injury and are more common in people who sweat heavily. They’re caused by an excessive loss of sodium via sweating and can produce painful spasms in the abdomen or extremities.
  • Heat exhaustion – Heat exhaustion sits between heat cramps and heat stroke in terms of severity. When the body starts losing its ability to regulate its internal temperature, heat exhaustion follows. Signs include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, excessive thirst, and reduced urination.
  • Heat stroke – Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is capable of inflicting fatal injury. In people with heat stroke, internal temperatures are dangerously high, and the body’s sweat-related processes fail. Heat stroke can quickly cause severe, including permanent, injury. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, confusion, seizures and either extreme sweating or no sweating at all. Emergency treatment is required to prevent fatal injury.
  • Rhabdomyolysis – Rhabdomyolysis commonly presents with heat stroke and is characterized by the rapid destruction and breakdown of muscle tissue. It can be caused by many things, including prolonged exertion in hot conditions.
    Rhabdomyolysis is a medical emergency, as muscle tissue releases proteins (myoglobin) when it is destroyed. The myoglobin can reach the kidneys and cause serious damage to them. Symptoms include muscle cramps, weakness, and dark-colored urine. Many people who experience rhabdomyolysis, though, are asymptomatic.

By taking note of the above signs and symptoms, your safety teams will spot heat injuries before they progress from bad to worse.

Create a Heat-Specific Safety Plan

Ideally, heat injuries are prevented, not just treated. And at busy worksites, the best way to prevent injury is to plan for it.

For some industries and major construction projects, safety plans are an OSHA requirement. However, many project managers go a step further and create site-specific safety plans – which often boil down to hazard-specific safety plans. On worksites where heat is a likely hazard, a heat-specific safety plan will improve preparedness should a heat injury occur. This plan may include the following:

  • Temperature data taken from the worksite
  • Provisions for how workers can monitor temperatures in the field
  • Where “hotspots” are likely to emerge
  • How and where workers will be given breaks to recover
  • Where heat-related first aid resources are located
  • What to do when a heat injury does emerge
  • Who to contact if a heat-related emergency occurs – or where to take an injured worker if there is an emergency
  • Assigning who is responsible for enforcing heat safety protocols

Once this plan is in place, it should be communicated to every work team and demonstrated through example by project leadership.

Establish Areas Where Workers Can Rest and Hydrate

Breaks and hydration are necessary for safety purposes, which means a shady, cool area to rest and plenty of water to drink. You can establish break areas with a tent, in a temporary, climate-controlled building, or just a well-shaded spot. Target areas that receive shade for extended periods of time, as these remain cooler throughout the day. High-volume fans are another inexpensive, but effective means of heat control.

Heat illness follows dehydration, so frequent water breaks are important for worker health. Depending on the heat index (a combination of temperature and humidity), workers may need up to 32 ounces of water every hour (a cup every 15 minutes) to maintain hydration. Make sure that there’s enough for every crew member, and that someone is assigned to get more water if necessary.

Keep an Eye on Changing Field Conditions, and Respond Accordingly

Even when the proper safety measures are taken, conditions can get to the point where working safely is too risky to manage. These dangerous conditions can creep up on worksites and safety managers, so monitoring the site’s heat index is a priority.

One way to do this is with cards designed with encapsulated liquid crystal (ELC) thermometers. ELC is made up of crystals that are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. Specifically, they twist and shift as heat increases, changing the way they absorb and reflect wavelengths of light. To us, we see this as a change in color. As heat increases or decreases, ELC thermometers change color, and they’re tiny enough to be incorporated into laminated cards.

If every worker is given one of these cards, which they wear on a lanyard or keep in their pocket – they’ll always be aware of worsening field conditions. ELC thermometers are accurate to within a couple degrees, too, so they can be relied on.

With the Right Safety Measures and Resources in Place, Workers Can Beat the Summer Heat

For many workers, heat is unavoidable. It can be planned for, though, and this goes a long way in preventing heat injuries. Such preparation should include onsite first aid resources, safety personnel, frequent hydration breaks, and heat monitoring equipment, among other measures.

With these policies in place, your teams can avoid a potentially tragic, and certainly avoidable emergency.