6 Best Practices for Mitigating Heat Stress
Blog | July 27th, 2023

6 Best Practices for Mitigating Heat Stress

In many industries, workers are often exposed to extreme heat, leading to a condition known as heat stress. This occurs when the body is unable to effectively dissipate the excess heat. As a result, there is an increase in the body's core temperature along with a faster heart rate. As the body continues to store heat, the person may find it difficult to focus, impacting productivity and physical and mental health. As the impact increases, they may become dehydrated, which can lead to fainting or even death unless timely action (to cool the person down) is taken.


Heat-related fatalities reported every year


Number of workers hospitalized due to excessive heat

According to the CDC, on average, 702 heat-related deaths are reported each year, with 67,512 emergency department visits and 9,235 hospitalizations due to heat. An HBR article quotes a 2021 Moody report where heat stress has been identified as a physical risk impacting almost every industrial sector. It increases cooling costs for the customer and also affects human health, causing

  • Exhaustion
  • Cramps
  • Affects mental health
  • Triggers diabetic complications
  • Causes a heat stroke
next generation modern plm software

Heat stress results in at least 2% of the total working hours being lost each year, and experts estimate that loss because of heat-related health and safety issues will touch $4 trillion annually by 2030.

Impact of Heat Stress on Health

Heat stress can be triggered by various factors, including elevated air temperatures, exposure to radiant heat from different sources, high humidity levels, direct contact with hot objects, working outdoors on hot, dry, or humid days, and engaging in strenuous physical activities.

According to CDC, some of the high-risk workers impacted by heat-related illnesses include:

  • Firefighters
  • Bakery workers
  • Farmers
  • Construction workers
  • Miners
  • Boiler room workers
  • Factory workers

The vulnerable group to heat stress are those who are 65 years or older, overweight, suffering from high blood pressure or heart disease, or taking medications that cannot tolerate extreme heat.

Heat stress can cause a variety of illnesses, varying in severity. Some of these include:

  • Heat Stroke: A serious illness, it is characterized by a rapid rise in the body’s temperature–as much as 106°F or higher in 15 minutes, failure of the sweating mechanism, and the body’s inability to cool down. If not treated immediately, it can lead to permanent disability or even death.
  • Heat Exhaustion: This is caused by the excessive loss of water and salt due to excessive sweating.
  • Rhabdomyolysis: This is caused due to the combination of heat stress and prolonged physical exertion and is characterized by a rapid breakdown, rupture, and death of muscle. This leads to the release of electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream, resulting in irregular heart rhythms, seizures, and kidney damage.
  • Heat Syncope: There may be episodes of fainting (syncope) or dizziness due to prolonged standing or standing up suddenly after sitting or lying for some time. Dehydration and lack of acclimatization are two factors causing syncope.
  • Heat Cramps: Excessive sweating due to strenuous activity can cause this as there is a depletion of body water and salt. It can also be caused by heat exhaustion.
  • Heat Rash: Excessive sweating during hot, humid weather can cause rash due to skin irritation.

Some of the risks of injuries include sweaty palms affecting grip and leading to accidents; fogged-up safety glasses preventing vision, and burns due to accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam.

Worker Safety When Working in High Temperature Conditions

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Heat Stress National Emphasis Program (NEP) has been put together to protect workers exposed to work temperatures that exceed 80°F in indoor and outdoor work sites. It requires safety departments in business organizations to establish a preventative program for employees working in heat-hazard conditions.

Some of the best practices to manage heat-related safety issues include:

Best Practice #1 - Proactive and Preventive - Need of the Hour: Heat-related illnesses and death affect the entire organization. The affected employees and their families suffer, colleagues feel apprehensive, the organization loses employee(s) and productivity, and may also face litigation, penalty, etc. Therefore, putting preventive measures such as permits to work, PPE, controls, and creating awareness about how to shield themselves from the heat and identify symptoms become important.

Best Practice #2 - Know Exposure Levels: A combination of factors that affect temperatures. Therefore, it is important to understand the role each factor plays in affecting the body temperature and take appropriate preventive measures.

  • Environmental factors play a role in affecting body heat. OSHA also provides guidance for the use and interpretation of results of measuring environmental heat impact on body temperature using a wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) meter.
  • Physical activity affects the body's metabolism and can be measured using metabolic heat and workload tables. The workload is classified from light to very heavy based on the intensity of the activity. Workers’ clothing should also be factored in when calculating the impact of the activity.
  • Individual worker parameters such as their age, health condition, lifestyle, etc. should be considered, as also their gender and the medications they take.

Best Practice #3 - Manage Room Temperature: Temperature control of the work site is important where possible. In indoor locations, this is possible and thermal comfort should be ensured. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard, the temperature should be maintained in the range of 68.5°F to 75°F in winter and 75°F to 80.5°F in summer.

Best Practice #4 - Provide Customized Training: Based on the nature of the activity, temperature, and individual factors, provide workers with training in heat stress management. This could cover a range of topics, including the proper use of heat-protective clothing and equipment, the impact of alcohol and drugs on heat stress tolerance, typical signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses that must be reported, and first aid to manage these symptoms.

Additionally, supervisors and managers must also be trained to monitor alert reports, plan work based on hot weather advisories, respond to workers with signs or symptoms of heat-related illness, ensure hydration, and provide rest breaks.

Engineering and administrative controls should also be used to mitigate the heat hazard. These include reducing exposure to heat through work-setting design such as using reflective or heat-absorbing shielding. Reduce exposure to heat by providing shaded areas to cool off.

Best Practice #5 - Facilitate Acclimatization: Acclimatizing the workers to hot temperatures through graded exposure can help improve tolerance levels and minimize the impact of heat exposure. A step-wise process spanning 7 to 14 days should be planned and implemented where such exposure is unavoidable. New workers should be provided a longer period to acclimatize. Here too, individual factors such as gender and general health must be factored in.

Best Practice # 6 - Implement a Heat-Health Action Plan: The World Health Organization provides guidance on creating and adopting a heat health plan that includes tracking weather conditions, communicating alerts and warnings, determining thresholds for action, and sharing risk information, customized to each work site and the worker. The action plan must be tracked and monitored for efficacy and continuous improvement.

Automating heat-hazard monitoring and management with ComplianceQuest’s EHS Software can make the entire process of handling heat-related risks more efficient, data-driven, and compliant. To find out more, request a demo: https://www.compliancequest.com/lp/ehs/

Request a Free Demo

Learn about all features of our Product, Quality and Safety suites. Please fill the form below to access our comprehensive Demo Video.

Please confirm your details


Related Blogs

Request Demo