Heat Stress

What is Heat Stress Illness?

When your body has the inability to cool down properly on its own, it causes a heat-related illness called Heat Stress. In normal cases, the body cools itself down through the process of sweat. Sometimes sweating isn’t effective enough and the body temperature increases. If the body temperature reaches too high, this can cause damage to important organs or even the brain.

Continuous climate change has resulted in more serious weather occasions. These events can have a larger impact on affecting human health, which stresses the importance of prevention awareness.

All groups of people can be effected by heat stress and those that are at a higher risk include: infants and young children, those over the age of 65, overweight people, and those who are already suffering from illness.

You can prevent heat-related death or illness by staying cool using an air conditioner even for a few hours a day, keep hydrated, and be informed.

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Types of Heat-related Illnesses

Heat Stroke
  • body unable to control own temperature
  • most serious heat-related illness
  • body temp. can rise to 106°F + within 10-15 minutes
  • can cause death or permanent damage without treatment

Symptoms: confusion, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot/dry skin or sweating, seizures, high blood temperature, fatal if treatment delayed

Heat Exhaustion
  • body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt
  • most at risk: elderly, high blood pressure, work in hot environments

Symptoms: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, decreased urine output

Rhabdomyolysis
  • medical condition associated with heat stress and physical exertion
  • results in rapid breakdown or death of muscle

Symptoms: muscle cramps/pain, abnormal dark urine, weakness, exercise intolerance, asymptomatic

Heat Syncope
  • fainting episode or dizziness
  • occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from sitting/lying position
  • factors that may contribute include dehydration and lack of acclimatization

Symptoms: fainting, dizziness, light-headedness during standing or sudden rising

Heat Cramps
  • affect most workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity removing body’s salt and moisture levels
  • low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps
  • may be a symptom of heat exhaustion

Symptoms: muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in abdomen, arms, or legs

Heat Rash
  • A heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

Symptoms: red cluster of pimples or small blisters, appears on neck, upper chest, groin, under breasts, elbow creases

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Control of Heat Stress

The employer should make efforts to reduce the risk of workplace heat stress by putting in place controls to ensure a safe and healthful work environment. For example, the employer can implement engineering controls that will increase the air velocity, use reflective shields or heat-absorbing barriers, or reduce steam leaks or humidity exposure.

It’s important that employees are trained on heat stress prevention when it applies to their worksite-specific conditions. An employee should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and be able to perform first aid if an occurrence should happen. They should understand how to minimize their risks and the proper care and use of heat-protective equipment.

These are only a few recommendations that can be applied to different workplaces. Consult with a safety and health professional if your workplace involves a hazard like heat stress. You can also view a full recommendations list by the NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments.

Additional Resources

OSHAcademy Online Course: 602 Heat and Cold Stress Safety

NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments.

Protecting Workers from Effects of Heat