Safety tips for working in the heat

Posted in General, Home, Business

A man in a hard hat and reflector vest drinks a bottle of water on a sunny day.

While working in the heat, it’s crucial to follow safety precautions and procedures to avoid heat-related illness. It doesn’t matter if you work in a hot indoor environment or hot weather, learning how to work in the heat could save your life.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the U.S. Department of Labor, 50 to 70% of outdoor fatalities “occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to build a tolerance to the heat gradually over time."

The good news is, with the right preparation and supervision, you can reduce the risk of heat cramps, heat stress, and other illnesses. For everything from summer yardwork to your job with constant heat exposure, keep these seven tips for working in the heat readily available.

Important note: The following tips for working in the heat are not intended to be medical advice. Always consult a medical professional and in an emergency call 911.

1. Stay hydrated

Always have cool water on hand when working outdoors. OSHA recommends drinking one liter of water every hour, which breaks down to about eight ounces every 15-20 minutes.

However, there’s more to hydration than drinking enough water while you’re working in the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water before entering a hot working environment and continue hydrating afterwards. Be sure to eat regularly to help replace the salt lost while you sweat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends avoiding energy drinks and alcohol to prevent the risk of heat stress. Energy drinks are typically high in caffeine which can affect your heart. The CDC also says alcohol can increase the risk of heat illness and cause dehydration.

2. Eat to fuel your day

Be aware of what you are consuming throughout the day and how it can impact your body while working in the heat. You may feel more comfortable by eating several smaller meals instead of a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout your day. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking medication and working long hours in the sun. You may be at higher risk of skin sensitivity or other heat-related illnesses.

3. Take regular breaks

Rest is incredibly important while working in the heat. Take frequent breaks either in the shade or an air-conditioned, indoor area to bring your body temperature down. Use this time to hydrate and snack as well.

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4. Take time to acclimatize

Acclimatization is the process of building tolerance to the heat. As you spend more time outside in the summer or working in a hot environment, your body will slowly get used to it.

For outside jobs like construction, agriculture, roofing, landscaping, mail delivery and package delivery, start with 20% exposure on the first day and increase by, at most, 20% every day. If there’s a drastic change in temperature, all workers should start adjusting to the climate by cutting their time outside in half. Workers should then slowly increase workload over the next three days, so by day four, they are back at their regular work schedule.

If you are working long hours in your yard completing projects like gardening or landscaping, the same methods will help you avoid heat stress and dehydration.

5. Protect your skin

Depending on your outdoor work, if possible, wear lightweight and light-colored clothing. Many outdoor workers are required to wear certain gear for protection. And while light clothing can protect against heat illness, only wear these items if they will not create a hazard in your workplace.

If it’s safe to do so, strongly consider wearing clothing with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothes with a UPF of at least 30. Any UPF greater than 50 is considered excellent protection.

Applying Sun Protection Factor (SPF) like sunscreen can help protect your skin from UVB rays. For long hours in the sun, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using SPF 30 or above. Be sure to read the instructions on your sunscreen and reapply as directed for best sun protection.

6. Monitor the weather

If you will be working outside, or you manage workers who will be outside, make sure you monitor the weather and real-time heat index. Monitor both to help you prepare for your time outside and plan breaks.

OSHA, in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers a Heat Safety App that can help you calculate the heat index of your worksite, determine the risk level to workers and know which precautions to take.

7. Use the buddy system

Work outside with a partner to ensure everyone stays safe and can get quick help if showing signs of heat-related illness. Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, nausea, vomiting, fainting and seizures. If someone shows signs of heat stroke or severe heat exhaustion, call 911 and get medical help immediately.

OSHA Heat App 
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 
The Skin Cancer Foundation 

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