OSHA reminds employers to protect workers from extreme heat at work sites

Updated Jul 12, 2019

Construction worker pouring water over his head

The summer heat is upon us, and so is heat-related illness. People working in the heat, like construction workers, are especially vulnerable.

The OSHA Training Institute Education Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District is reminding employers to protect their workers from heat illness due to extreme heat at work sites. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require employers with workers exposed to high temperatures to establish a heat illness prevention program that incorporates water, rest, and shade as key elements of worker protection.

“Every year dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions,” says Cari Elofson, Assistant Director of the OSHA Training Institute Education Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, in a press release. “More than 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occur on construction job sites, but workers in every industry are susceptible while working in high temperatures. Most heat-related illnesses and deaths are totally preventable.”

During hot weather, especially when humidity is high, body temperature can rise to dangerous levels and lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke if workers don’t drink enough water and rest in the shade. Any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is at risk for heat illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, including new and temporary workers and those returning to work after a week or more off.

The following essential elements make for an effective heat illness prevention program:

  • Providing workers with water, rest, and shade;
  • Allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize and build a tolerance for working in the heat;
  • Planning for emergencies and training workers on prevention; and
  • Monitoring workers for signs of illness.

OSHA’s Occupational Heat Exposure webpage explains what employers can do to keep workers safe and what workers need to know, including factors for heat illness, adapting to working in indoor and outdoor heat, recognizing symptoms, and first aid training. It also offers resources for specific industries, an overview of OSHA’s heat-related standards, and links to heat safety apps for both iPhones and Android phones.