Ensuring Worker Safety During Record Heat

Cities across the nation have been experiencing record heat this summer of 2022. Construction workers and other professionals that work outdoors are vulnerable to the dangers of heat illnesses, some of which can be fatal. Workers that perform high physical activity or wear personal protective equipment like fire retardant clothing are also more susceptible to serious injury.  

About 600 people die annually from extreme heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under federal OSHA law, employers are responsible for "providing workplaces free of known safety hazards," including from extreme heat. The first step is making sure that teams and supervisors are aware of the indicators of distress and are trained to respond to them.  

 

Common Heat Sickness Signs to Watch For 

Extreme heat buildup occurs internally during physical labor and externally during weather and temperature changes. The following are illnesses that may result from exposure to heat, including some of their typical symptoms and signs. 

Heat-Related Illness 

Symptoms and Signs 

Heat Stroke 

Confusion
Slurred speech 
Unconsciousness 
Seizures 
Heavy sweating or hot, dry skin 
Very high body temperature 
Rapid heart rate 

Heat exhaustion 

Fatigue 
Irritability 
Thirst 
Nausea or vomiting 
Dizziness or lightheadedness 
Heavy sweating 
Elevated body temperature or fast heart rate 

Heat cramps 

Muscle spasms or pain (usually in legs and arms) 

Heat syncope 

Fainting 
Dizziness 

Heat rash 

Clusters of red bumps on skin (often appearing on neck, upper chest, and skin folds) 

Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown) 

Muscle pain 
Dark urine or reduce urine output 
Weakness 

 

Dangerous Working Temperatures 

According to the Department of Labor & Industries, extra protections apply in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California for outdoor workers performing in 89-degree weather for more than 15 minutes in any 60-minute period. 

The National Weather Service (NWS) uses a heat index (HI) to classify environmental heat into four ranges. At these temperatures, workers are more susceptible to heat-related injury or sickness. Employers should observe extra caution and have plans for handling emergencies. 

Heat Index 

Possible Heat illnesses 

80-90 

Fatigue possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity. 

90-105 

Sunstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity. 

105-130 

Sunstroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion likely; heat stroke possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity. 

130 and higher 

Heatstroke/sunstroke highly likely with continued exposure. 

 

 

How to Protect Outdoor Workers in a Heat Wave 

“Water, shade, rest, and close observation can help save workers from the real risks of serious heat illness this week. It’s incredibly tough to be outdoors working in this heat, so we are urging caution and will be out enforcing these rules statewide,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director, L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. 

Being proactive about protecting workers’ health and safety during extreme heat can save lives. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, offers recommendations to protect outdoor workers: 

  • Pair workers with another to watch for signs of symptoms on high heat index days. 
  • Send heat illness reminders at the start of every shift and instructions on where to find emergency medical staff, supplies, and rest areas.  
  • Monitor fluid intake of crews, compensating for rapid dehydration caused by extreme heat and intensive labor. Workers should consume four to six 8-ounce cups of water per hour, for a total of 12 quarts per day. 
  • Discourage fluids known to increase hydration (coffee, tea, soda, sports drinks) with sugar and caffeine. 
  • Distribute heavy workloads across longer schedules and among larger teams to allow time for rest and recovery, preventing buildup of internal body heat.  
  • Ensure the presence of shade from direct sunlight (trees, tents, canopies), advise workers to wear wide-brimmed hats and breathable clothing when possible. Offer fans, misting stations, and cooling vests in shaded areas. 

 

 

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