It is HOT Outside, Steps Employers Should Take to Beat the Heat



It is summer and great time to review your heat stress compliance.
I am sure all of those who work outdoors have seen information on heat stress or heat exhaustion. As employers, we have much responsibility when it comes to temperature extremes.
Just like any safety situation, OSHA requires us to follow the standard Administrative, Engineering or PPE hazard assessment. So let’s start with this in mind and go through a few possible actions. All of these actions will reduce exposure, increase productivity, and complete compliance requirements. I can not stress enough how many times following this line of thinking has increased productivity by leaps and bounds. If you are diligent you WILL see bottom line results that will have you smiling.
Steps You Can Take As an Employer
Administrative Actions
First we must look at the administrative actions we can take to keep workers safe. This is accomplished by looking into time spent in the sun. Can we rotate workers from tasks in direct sun limiting the exposure time? This is difficult and will only be an option on a small percentage of jobs. However, if possible, this can be a very effective means of limiting work time in the sun. Other administrative possibilities are changing the time the work is done. Can it be done at night? Can employees show up early each day and do the hardest labor first? Think along these lines and many solutions are likely to become clear.
Engineering Controls
Our next step will be with engineering controls. Can you install cover for shade? Shading your workers from direct sunlight will lower the temperature enough to make work more comfortable. Other engineering actions include installation and use of fans. Local and general ventilation will lower temperatures. These are just a few examples of engineering controls possibile. All jobs are unique – many solutions are there if you are diligent about assessing each situation.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Finally we have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  Advances in PPE that provide protection and give significant cost returns are many; with new products appearing on the market regularly and often. I can not stress enough the importance of contacting your safety vendor and having a long talk with them about the type work you do. They will have several options and you can choose what fits your task best
Personal Protective Equipment starts with clothing. The most common error many of us make is to remove clothing. Covering the skin is very much like the shade. Take a look at anyone that comes from a country with constantly hot temperatures. Have you ever seen a Sheik from the Middle East in shorts and a T shirt? NO! They come from a place on earth where the ambient temperature is always high and they cover almost 100% of their body in white.
Light color is the first consideration as it reflects sun rather than absorbing it as dark colors do. Garments made of cotton or other material that absorb water and allow for slower evaporation will cool your body. Next we have cool vests; new technology in these has resulted in light weight vests at a reasonable cost. They have cool packs that insert into pockets in the vest and last up to two hours. You can purchase extra cool packs as needed to keep in a cooler and rotate them through the day. These are very effective; I have client that tells me productivity is up 25% or more since adding cool vests. They can pay for themselves in one pay period. Employees love them and you can expect an increase in morale.
Of course, employers are responsible for providing sufficient water and disposable cups for all employees. I highly recommend in extreme heat days or high work load days to also provide electrolyte drinks.
Note: While not required, I highly recommend keeping an ear thermometer on all jobs. I advise at least one in each first aid kit. These will easily and quickly assess core temperature, which is key in determining if an employee is at risk of, or is overheating, which can rapidly turn into an unnecessary tragedy without prompt intervention.
Training is Critical
Finally, training is critical. In the summer heat any of us, even those with training, can quickly fall victim to heat stress. Train your employees with the solutions you have learned from your hazard assessment. You should purchase PPE that works best or your situation and train employees how to properly use it.  Encourage team involvement; this is one area where we all need to watch out for each other as it may well mean saving a life. Keep eyes on your fellow workers, if you see them having any symptoms, stop them from working and follow the steps below. Employers, I encourage posting the signs and symptoms below on the worksite.
Bottom line here is that with a bit of planning, forethought, and action you can protect your employees, increase productivity and have a safe and compliant worksite. I encourage all to take a look at this time of year at these and other possibilities. It is a win-win situation that your employees will appreciate. When properly implemented, your heat stress program will not only keep you in compliance, it will increase productivity and morale.
Heat Stress Symptoms & Action Steps
Heat exhaustion, or heat stress, can range in severity from mild heat cramps to heat exhaustion to potentially life-threatening heatstroke.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion often begin suddenly, sometimes after excessive exercise, heavy perspiration, and inadequate fluid or salt intake.
Signs and symptoms resemble those of shock and may include:
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid, weak heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cool, moist, pale skin
  • Low-grade fever
  • Heat cramps
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dark-colored urine
If you suspect heat exhaustion:
  • Get the person out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned location.
  • Lay the person down and elevate the legs and feet slightly.
  • Loosen or remove the person's clothing.
  • Have the person drink cool water or other nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.
  • Cool the person by spraying or sponging with cool water and fanning.
  • Monitor the person carefully. Heat exhaustion can quickly become heatstroke.
Call 911 or emergency medical help if the person's condition deteriorates, especially if fainting, confusion or seizures occur, or if fever of 103.F or greater occurs with other symptoms.
Author Brian Hill is owner of OshaSure in Birmingham Alabama and has over 20 years as a workplace safety and risk consultant. Brian was previously a pilot for a major US airline and member of the company’s interdepartmental safety committee. He found his new career in safety after the closing of the airline in 1991. Brian has found the same passion he had for flying in assisting companies with safety, heath and risk issues.
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Editor Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Contact




Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.


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