Heat-Related Illness: Your Employees’ Summer Enemy

Heat-related illness is no laughing matter. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies five heat-related illnesses with which employers and employees should be familiar. Recognizing such illnesses — and understanding how to prevent them — plays an important role in keeping your crew safe. Here are the symptoms of each, and the steps to take when treatment is necessary.

Heat Rash

Happens when the skin is constantly wet with perspiration. It can become complicated by infection through scratching.
Symptoms: Itchy, reddish rash on skin. Normally appears on neck, upper chest and folds of skin.
Treatment and Prevention: Rest in a cool, dry place, allowing the skin to dry. Shower every day after work. Sleep in cool, dry place overnight. To avoid infection of heat rash, resist the urge to scratch.


This is a problem especially for new employees who are not acclimated to working outside. It is also a problem for anyone who stands around outside or is not moving much.
Symptoms: Dizziness, feeling faint
Treatment and Prevention: Moving around, rather than standing still, usually reduces the possibility of fainting. Employees feeling faint should lie down in a cool place for short while.

Heat Cramps

Occur when employees drink sufficient water but do not replace their body’s salt.
Symptoms: Painful muscle spasms. These usually occur in the arms, legs and/or stomach. Cramps may occur during or after work hours.
Treatment and Prevention: Employees should rest in a cool, shaded area and wait a few hours before returning to strenuous work. Also, workers can replace lost salts and minerals by drinking fluids containing those salts and minerals, as well as electrolytes. If cramps do not go away, seek medical attention.

Heat Exhaustion

Results from fluid and salt loss due to heavy perspiring. Affects workers who do not drink enough fluids, take in enough salt — or both.
Symptoms: An employee experiencing heat exhaustion still perspires heavily. However, the employee feels extreme fatigue, giddiness, nausea, dizziness, thirst, fast heartbeat or headache. The employee’s skin will be clammy and moist, with a pale or flushed complexion and a body temperature that is normal or slightly elevated.
Treatment and Prevention: The employee should rest in a cool place and drink salted fluids.
Note: Seek medical attention if the employee experiences loss of consciousness and/or signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.

Heat Stroke

This is the most serious heat stress illness because it can be fatal. Heat stroke can cause damage to the brain or other vital organs. It occurs when the body is so overheated that it is unable to regulate its core temperature and rid itself of excess heat.
Symptoms: Fainting, mental confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness, convulsions, coma, body temperature of 106 degrees F or higher, and lack of perspiration. The skin is red, hot, dry or bluish.
Treatment and Prevention: Call 9-1-1 immediately! Medical attention is critical for a heat stroke. Heat stoke is a medical emergency that can result in death. First aid procedures include moving the employee to a cool place, soaking the employee’s clothes with cool water, cooling them with ice packs, providing fluids (preferably water) and fanning vigorously to increase cooling.