May 6, 2024 9 min read

7 Heat Stress Prevention Tips


AECFacilities ManagementIndustrial



As temperatures rise this summer, the risk of heat stress increases for workers in a variety of industries. When left unchecked, this occupational hazard can have detrimental effects on health, productivity, and workplace safety. In this blog, we’ll share heat stress prevention tips to equip you with the knowledge and strategies needed to safeguard yourself and your team from the scorching heat

What is Heat Stress?

Heat stress occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels and is unable to cool itself through sweating. This can happen when someone has prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity and it can lead to a range of heat-related illnesses such as exhaustion, heat rash, and heat stroke.

Heat Stress Causes

Heat stress can be triggered by several factors, including working in hot environments, physical exertion, inadequate hydration, and insufficient rest breaks. Additionally, factors such as heavy clothing, improper personal protective equipment (PPE), and high air temperatures can exacerbate the risk of heat stress.

Who Should Worry about Heat Stress?

Heat stress is prevalent in a wide range of industries, including:

These sectors often involve strenuous physical activity in environments where temperatures can soar, putting workers at a heightened risk of heat-related illnesses.

Course Spotlight: Heat Stress Symptoms and Prevention

Educate your workforce on the dangers of heat stress. This course provides an overview of the different heat-related illnesses, warning signs, and what to do if someone shows signs of heat stress.

View Course

Heat-Related Illnesses: Definitions

Heat stress can manifest in a few different ways:

  • Heat Stroke: When the body’s core temperature rises to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes and the body can no longer regulate temperature. This is the most serious heat-related illness and can be life-threatening.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Extreme fatigue that is caused when the body sweats too much and can no longer cool itself properly.
  • Heat Cramps: Painful muscle spasms that can occur when someone is dehydrated and has sweat excessively, causing a loss of nutrients. This is often one of the first signs of more serious heat-related illness.
  • Heat Rash: A harmless, but very itchy skin rash that occurs when the body sweats more than usual.

Symptoms of Heat Stress and First Aid

Recognizing the signs of heat-related illness and providing appropriate first aid is vital. Here’s a breakdown of common heat-related illnesses, their symptoms, and recommended initial measures:

Heat-Related Illness  Severity  Symptoms  Action Steps 
Heat Stroke  High 
  • Confusion 
  • Fainting 
  • Seizures 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Red, hot, dry skin 
  • Very high body temperature 
  1. Immediately call 911 
  2. Move affected person to a shaded and cool area 
  3. Loosen their clothing and remove outer layers 
  4. Provide a fan or use cold packs in their armpits 
  5. Wet their body with cool water or apply ice packs and cool compresses 
  6. Offer fluids (ideally water) as soon as possible 
  7. Stay with the individual until medical help arrives 
Heat Exhaustion  Moderate 
  • Cool, moist skin 
  • Heavy sweating 
  • Headache, dizziness, and/or lightheadedness 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Weakness 
  • Thirst 
  • Irritability 
  • Fast heartbeat 
  1. Have the employee sit or lie down in a cool, shady area 
  2. Drink fluids (ideally water) 
  3. Cool worker with cold compresses or ice packs 
  4. Take the worker for medical evaluation if their symptoms worsen or don’t improve within 60 minutes 
  5. Do not have the worker return to work that day 
Heat Cramps  Mild 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Pain (usually in abdomen, arms, or legs) 
  1. Have the employee sit or lie down in a cool, shady area 
  2. Drink fluids (ideally water) 
  3. Wait a few hours before allowing the worker to return to strenuous work   
  4. Have the worker seek medical attention if cramps don’t go away   
Heat Rash  Mild  Clusters of red bumps on the skin (often on neck, upper chest, folds of skin) 
  1. Try to work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible 
  2. Keep the affected area dry 

7 Heat Stress Prevention Tips

Due to the severity of heat-related illnesses, it’s crucial for employers and employees to prioritize heat stress prevention measures.

Let’s explore seven practical tips to help mitigate the risks associated with heat stress.

1. Create a Cooler Environment

Engineering controls are a way to protect workers by removing hazardous conditions or placing a barrier between workers and hazards. When it comes to heat stress prevention, this would include ways to create a cooler working environment such as:

  • Installing air conditioning when possible
  • Ensuring good ventilation, including local exhaust ventilations near areas with higher heat levels
  • Installing fans
  • Using reflective shields to redirect radiant heat
  • Insulating hot surfaces, particularly those near furnaces or boilers

2. Create a Heat Stress Prevention Safety Culture

There are times when engineering controls aren’t feasible (e.g., you can’t install air conditioning on a construction site). That’s why it’s important to also create safe working practices such as:

  • Establishing an emergency response plan for heat stress
  • Acclimating workers by gradually increasing exposure to heat and increasing workloads
  • Scheduling shorter work shifts, more frequent breaks, and/or job rotations to limit heat exposure
  • Providing ample safe drinking water on work sites and encouraging regular water consumption
  • Minimizing physically demanding tasks during hot weather and scheduling them for cooler times of day

3. Wear Personal Protective Equipment

Ensure your workforce is aware that certain types of PPE, such as specific respirators and impermeable clothing, can increase the risk of heat stress. In these cases, workers should exercise additional caution and take extra safety measures to stay cool.

On the other hand, there are types of PPE that can help prevent heat stress.

  • In workplaces with extreme heat conditions, consider utilizing insulated gloves, insulated suits, reflective clothing, or infrared-reflecting face shields.
  • For extremely hot conditions, explore the use of thermally conditioned clothing options, such as garments with self-contained air conditioners or compressed air sources that supply cool air through vortex tubes. Alternatively, garments with pockets for dry ice or containers of ice can be employed.

4. Provide Heat Stress Training

Knowledge of heat stress and the warning signs are critical to employees taking appropriate action before serious illness can occur. Providing comprehensive training on heat stress is, therefore, one of the best ways to prevent heat-related illnesses.

Training should cover topics like:

  • Heat stress risk factors
  • The types of heat-related illnesses, their severity, and their symptoms
  • Preventative measures and first aid
  • How to properly hydrate
  • The importance of acclimating
  • Procedures to follow when contacting emergency medical services for extreme heat-related illness

5. Encourage Frequent Water and Rest Breaks

When employees are working in extreme heat, it’s important to provide them with frequent breaks. Encouraging workers to regularly drink water is key to preventing dehydration and worsening heat stress symptoms. It’s important for you to provide easy access to water throughout the workday.

Taking enough rest breaks are also an important way to prevent heat stress. Regular breaks allow employes to cool down and recover from heat exposure. You can ensure employees get sufficient breaks by scheduling shorter work shifts and by providing shaded or cooler areas for employees to go while on break.

6. Monitor Weather Conditions and Heat Index

Keeping track of weather forecasts and heat index values is crucial for anticipating and responding to potential heat stress risks.

Implement a system for monitoring weather conditions, especially during hot seasons or in areas prone to heat waves. When the heat index surpasses certain thresholds, adjust work schedules, increase rest breaks, or implement other preventive measures to reduce heat exposure and mitigate the risk of heat-related illnesses.

7. Conduct Regular Heat Stress Risk Assessments

Performing regular heat stress risk assessments allows organizations to identify potential hazards, evaluate existing control measures, and implement additional preventive actions as needed.

  • Engage with employees to gather insights into their working conditions, experiences, and concerns regarding heat stress.
  • Use competency assessments to validate employees are aware of heat stress symptoms, causes, and action plans.

By conducting thorough risk assessments, you can proactively address heat stress risks and ensure continuous improvement in your heat stress prevention efforts.

Summary: 7 Tips for Preventing Employee Heat-Related Illnesses

  1. Create a Cooler Environment
  2. Create a Heat Stress Prevention Safety Culture
  3. Wear Personal Protective Equipment
  4. Provide Heat Stress Training
  5. Encourage Frequent Water and Rest Breaks
  6. Monitor Weather Conditions and Heat Index
  7. Conduct Regular Heat Stress Risk Assessments

Course Spotlight: Heat Stress Causes

Every year, heat stress affects thousands of people and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly and properly. This course provides employees with the knowledge they need to prevent, spot, and respond to heat stress.

View Course

Why Heat Stress Prevention Matters

So, why is heat stress prevention so important? The sad reality is that heat exposure at work is incredibly dangerous. The CDC estimates that every year, heat stress causes:

  • 702 deaths
  • 67,512 ER Visits
  • 9,235 hospitalizations

It’s up to you to ensure your organization is taking the appropriate steps to prevent heat stress and educate workers on its severity.

Failure to provide adequate heat stress prevention measures has severe consequences. And it doesn’t stop just with the health impact on your workforce. Heat stress can lead to productivity loss and, when left unchecked, can hurt employee morale and retention in the long run.

Heat Stress Prevention Courses to Include in Your Training Plan

Create a world class heat stress prevention curriculum with our wide selection of heat stress online courses:

These courses are part of our award-winning, 3D animated health and safety libraries. If you want to learn more about our online courses and safety management solutions, request a demo today.

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