Injuries and Illness

6 Ways to Prevent Heat Stress at Work

You can treat heat stress, but preventing it is even better. Here are the steps you need to know to do both.

Yesterday’s Advisor began a discussion of heat-related problems workers may face as June stretches into July, August, and September, traditionally the hottest months of the year.

Heat problems kill some 4,000 Americans yearly, including the very young and old, those with diseases such as diabetes that disrupt the body’s temperature control mechanism, and those working in the heat. That last group puts the issue in your hands.

Heat problems themselves come in three varieties: heat cramps, heat exhaustion (also called heat prostration or collapse,) and the real killer, heatstroke. Collectively, these conditions are known as heat stress. Remedies for each condition were explained by James D. MacDonald on the website,

For heat cramps, MacDonald writes, “Get out of the hot environment, stop using your large muscles, drink water, and replace electrolytes.”

For heat exhaustion, he advises, “Get out of the heat and take off any excessive clothing, particularly around the head and neck. Drink a liter of water (slowly, so nausea doesn’t develop), lie down with your feet up, and use a fan for cooling.” The problem should go away in 30 minutes. If not, medical attention may be needed.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. “Your first and biggest objective is to lower the [body’s] core temperature by any means available,” MacDonald explains. Those include cold packs on the neck, armpits, and groin, coverage with wet sheets or towels, and placement in a highly air-conditioned room. Medical help should be summoned immediately. “Even if you save the brain, you may not have saved the kidneys,” he adds.

It’s understandable if all of this has you looking for ways to prevent these conditions rather than having to treat them. Fortunately, our subscription website,, recently answered this need with these 6 ways to prevent heat illness:

  1. Pre-hydrate. Before activity starts, have workers drink up to 16 ounces of fluid. Then drink 8 ounces every 20 minutes during the activity.
  2. Drink flavored water. Plain water quenches thirst too quickly, so workers tend to not drink enough of it.
  3. Acclimate to the heat slowly, over 5 to 7 days of exposure. For new workers, institute a 20 percent increase of time in the heat for each day. Workers already used to these conditions can increase exposure slightly faster, but 4 days out of the heat means re-acclimation will be needed.
  4. Don’t wear a hat. It restricts heat loss through the head. Workers operating in direct sunlight can wear a visor.
  5. Wear loose, thin synthetic fabrics. They help the skin stay cool through evaporation. Avoid cotton as it soaks up sweat, forestalling evaporation.
  6. Wear your PPE no matter what the temperature. It can’t protect you if it’s not on you. If it’s uncomfortable, take frequent breaks.

Principal speaker is John Howard, M.D., the national director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and is the source of much of the material we’ve presented here. There’s no one more qualified to speak on the subject than NIOSH’s top officer.


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