The best way to avoid heat-related illness is prevention, according to NIOSH's latest Workplace Solutions publication, which focuses on preventing heat-related illness or death in outdoor workers. With summer fast approaching, the agency reminds employers and workers that people of all ages are susceptible to heat-related illness, which may range from minor heat rash to serious heat stroke. To reduce the risk of heat-related illness in outdoor workers, NIOSH recommends that employers establish a heat-related illness prevention program that includes measures such as training for supervisors and workers to prevent, recognize, and treat heat-related illness; providing for and encouraging proper hydration; monitoring workers during hot conditions; and ensuring access to shade or cool areas. Employers should also consider establishing work/rest schedules appropriate for the heat stress conditions on-site, NIOSH says, adding that an industrial hygienist may need to be consulted regarding this measure.
NIOSH notes that outdoor workers are exposed to two forms of heat stress: exertional heat stress, or body heat generated by hard physical labor, and environmental heat stress, or heat caused by surrounding working conditions. As factors such as increased air temperature, high humidity, heavy clothing, and lack of water contribute to increased environmental heat stress, exertional heat stress can worsen as well.
"Employers and workers should look out for signs of heat-related illness, not only in themselves but also in their coworkers, and be prepared to seek and provide medical assistance," the document reads.
The publication also details a NIOSH study of heat-related fatalities of workers in the U.S., provides further information on the symptoms of heat-related illness, and includes the case reports of two workplace fatalities involving outdoor workers exposed to heat.