Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

With summer around the corner, workers have a greater risk of being exposed to high temperatures. This creates a problem for workers, especially outdoors. However, heat-related illnesses are not limited to just the outdoors. This is seen, but not limited to, in steel mills, foundries, utilities, warehousing manufacturing, bakeries and fire services. Most issues arise in the first few days of working in a hot environment. This is due to the body having less time to adjust to these high temperatures in order to build a tolerance. This process of becoming, or the state of being, acclimated, or habituated to a new climate is better known as ‘heat acclimation.’ Our bodies go through acclimatization when we are faced with temperature fluctuations from different environments. Problems can arise when one does not allow their body to acclimate to hot temperatures, which can lead to various heat-related illnesses. According to Safety and Health Magazine, “from 1992 to 2016 heat-related illnesses killed 783 workers and injured almost 70,000 in the United States alone” Bottino (2021). Additionally, OSHA states that “50% to 70% percent of fatalities from heat-related illnesses happen in the first days of working outside in hot working environments.” (Overview: Working in Outdoor and Indoor Heat Environments, 2021). Therefore, allowing workers to get acclimated to their working conditions and gradually increasing their workload is crucial and essential for the safety of all employees.

Are You at Risk?

Risk factors include:

  • Heavy physical activity
  • Warm or hot environments
  • Lack of acclimation
  • Clothing that holds in body heat
  • Hot local heat sources
  • Lack of physical fitness
  • Certain medication

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat-related illnesses include:

  • Heatstroke
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat rash

What is Heat Stroke?

This is the most dangerous heat-related illness. This can happen when the body gets above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The body loses control of its temperature and can no longer sweat and cool itself. The body can reach temperatures as high as 106 degrees within as little as 10 minutes, which can be fatal and permanent injures if not treated.


  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

What to do:

  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

What is Heat Exhaustion ?

Heat exhaustion happens when the body is exposed to high temperatures for multiple days and is not replenished with enough fluids. This is a mild form of heat-related illness that is seen often in elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and anyone working or exercising in an environment that is hot. Medical attention is required if symptoms last longer than an hour. If this remains untreated it can turn into heatstroke.


  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

What to do:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Rest
  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
  • Seek an air-conditioned environment
  • Wear lightweight clothing

What are Heat Cramps?

Heat cramps occur most of the time because of strenuous activity and are muscle pains and spasms. They typically happen in the legs, arms, or abdomen. The more you sweat the more likely you are to get heat cramps. Sweating depletes the body moisture and salt levels. You need to seek medical attention if you are on a low-sodium diet or have heart problems.

What to do:

  • Stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour

What is Heat Rash?

Heat rash is a skin irritation that looks like a group of small blisters or pimples. This forms usually in elbow creases, the groin, on the upper chest, the neck and under the breasts. This is caused by extreme sweating in hot, humid weather. This can happen to people of all ages however, it is most prominent in children.

What to do:

  • Get to a cooler and less humid environment
  • Keep the affected dry
  • Apply powder for comfort

Be Aware

Heat-related illness awareness is essential for the safety of workers in hot working conditions. This includes working indoors and outdoors. It is important to pace yourself and progressively increase your pace working in these environments to let your body acclimate to the temperature. Wearing lightweight and light-colored clothing also helps keep the body cool. Drinking enough fluids is also extremely important to preventing heat-related illnesses. Sports drinks, water, and fruit juices are great choices. If you start to notice your heart pounding, gasping for air, or any other symptoms of heat-related illnesses listed above; it is important to stop your activity and get to a cool place and rest.

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