HEAT-RELATED HAZARDS

Millions of workers are exposed to heat in their workplaces.  These exposures occur in both indoor and outdoor working environments and are equally hazardous in both.  The greatest occupational risk from heat exposure occurs during first few days of working in a hot environment because the body builds tolerance to heat over time – according to OSHA more than half of all heat-related fatalities occur during the first few days of working in the heat.  Other risk factors include physical exertion, how hot it is (including air temperature, humidity, sunlight, and air circulation) and wearing clothing that retains body heat.  Some workers also have medical conditions that put them at increased risk of suffering from heat-related illness.

Outdoor occupations at risk of heat-related illnesses include agriculture, construction, landscaping, and delivery services.  Indoor occupations include bakeries, kitchens, laundries, manufacturing jobs, and warehouses.    

Heat-related injuries generally fall into one of two categories:  heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Heat exhaustion symptoms include general weakness, nausea or vomiting, fainting, lightheadedness or dizziness, and an increased pulse or heart rate.  Treatment can include the use of cold compresses, hydration and moving to a cooler location.

Heat stroke can be life-threatening and involve high body temperature and loss of consciousness.  Immediate medical attention is required for cases of heat stroke, often on an emergency basis.

On April 8, 2022 OSHA announced a National Emphasis Program focused on heat hazards in both indoor and outdoor employment, stepping up investigation and enforcement of working conditions for employees in hot environments.  Of course, workers should also take steps to protect themselves, especially early in the summer as they acclimate to the warmer temperatures.

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