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Heat Related Illness: Keys to Keep Employees Cool and Safe

Julie Copeland

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As summer rolls around again, it is important to remember the dangers associated with the returning heat. Every year, thousands of workers nationwide suffer from serious heat-related illnesses (HRI).

There are a number of illnesses related to overheating, each with a different degree of seriousness. These illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat syncope, heat rash, and heat edema.

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Heat Stroke: High Risk

When a worker’s body temperature exceeds 105.1°F, he or she is experiencing heat stroke, also known as sun stroke. This elevated hyperthermia is one of the more serious conditions caused by heat exposure.


  • Body Temperature Exceeding 105.1°F
  • Confusion
  • Excessive or Lack of Sweating
  • Fainting
  • Seizures

Heat Exhaustion: Medium Risk

Before heat stroke is experienced, heat exhaustion will occur. It is a common condition caused either by dehydration or salt depletion. By itself, heat exhaustion is not very serious but since it is the precursor to heat stroke, should be taken seriously.


  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Extreme Thirst
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Fainting

Heat Cramps: Medium Risk

When your body doesn’t have enough fluids or electrolytes, it is possible to experience a heat cramp. Alone, heat cramps are not a serious condition. They can occur either as a symptom of a more serious condition such as heat stroke or hours after your body has cooled down as a standalone illness.


  • Cramps in Calves, Abdomen, or Arms
  • Muscle Spasms

Heat Syncope: High Risk

Heat syncope, or fainting from overheating, is also both a symptom and a standalone illness. In young people, it is common to experience fainting before heat stroke occurs while as an adult it is usually a result of it. Any state of unconsciousness is a serious condition that must be immediately addressed.


  • Any symptom from heat stroke or exhaustion can indicate the possibility of heat syncope

Heat Rash: Low Risk

Also known as Miliaria and “sweat rash,” heat rashes are commonly mild, itchy rashes that develop from excessive sweating. Any rash can lead to infection, especially when skin is broken. More common in children than adults, heat rash is generally not a threat to one’s health. It can, however, lead to heat exhaustion due to the blocking of sweat glands.


  • Small Red Rashes
  • Itching
  • Prickling Sensation

Heat Edema: Low Risk

Heat edema is a less common heat related condition that results from expanded blood vessels, leading to swelling in the hands and legs. It is exacerbated when salt levels in the blood are higher than normal. Heat edema can occur both in high heat conditions and when someone from a colder climate moves to a warmer one. It is not a health risk but again, may indicate heat exhaustion.


  • Swelling of Hands and Legs
  • Clothes Feel Restrictive
  • Rings Feel Tight

It’s important to mention that some workers are at a greater risk than others for HRI’s. These employees include people who are over 65 years of age, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

Jobs that potentially put workers at risk of HRI’s are firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers and factory workers among others.

Protect Employees From HRI’s By Taking Preventative Action

The following is a comprehensive list of tips to tackle the risks of heat-stress to ensure summertime workplace safety:

  • Train and educate workers and supervisors on risk factors and early warning signs of HRI’s
  • Provide cool drinking water near work areas and promote regular hydration before feeling thirsty
  • Monitor temperature and humidity levels near work areas
  • Implement a heat management program so everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency
  • Use work cycles to limit prolonged exposure to hot work areas and allow workers routine breaks in the shade
  • Use the “buddy system” to monitor worker conditions
  • Use safety supplies such as cooling vests, especially under heavy protective gear
  • Acclimate workers by exposing them for progressively long periods of time to hot work environments
  • Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day
  • Avoid alcohol and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar 

With temperatures rising, now is the time to start training employees on the safety hazards of HRI’s and implementing preventative measures for your workers who are exposed to extreme heat conditions. Through heat stress knowledge and tactics, you ensure the health and safety of your workers over the coming summer months. 

Contact an Arbill Safety Expert today, for more information on how to keep your employees cool and safe.

Have a safe day!

Topics: heat exhaustion, Heat related illnesses, heat related illness

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