KU-EHS June Safety Tip: Heat Exposure and Protection from Heat Stress

With summer and its soaring temperatures in full swing, now is a good time to talk about the effect that heat can have on you as you perform your job. Many people mistakenly assume that only individuals who work outdoors have to worry about hot work environments. As some of you probably know from personal experience, this isn’t always the case.

1. What environmental work factors could put employees at risk for heat-related illnesses?

  • High temperatures and humidity

  • Radiant heat sources

  • Direct sun exposure

  • Limited air movement/lack of ventilation

  • Strenuous physical activity

  • The use of heavy personal protective equipment

When you work in a hot environment and the temperature outside is also very high, the negative effects of the heat are compounded, making it even harder for your body to cool down.

2. Why is heat so hazardous?

  • The body must maintain a stable internal temperature at all times.

  • When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, it becomes more difficult for the body to cool itself down.

  • If the body cannot eliminate excess heat, it will begin to store it.

  • Stored body heat leads to a rise in the body’s core temperature and an increase in heart rate.

  • Illness and even death can occur if the body’s temperature gets too high

3. What can you do to protect yourself from heat-related illness in the workplace?
Pay attention to your body. If you begin to feel dizzy, weak, nauseous or stop sweating entirely, tell a manager or supervisor.

  • Drink water about every 15 minutes. Do not wait until you are thirsty.

  • Avoid beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine.

  • If possible, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes.

  • Take frequent rest breaks in air-conditioned areas.

A Final Note

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure. Pay attention to your environment to prevent illness.

OSHA Quick Card: Protecting Workers from Heat Stress (pdf)