Working Safely in the Heat

Posted on September 6th, 2019

According to NOAA, 2019 has been the hottest year on record and July was the hottest month on record. What does that mean for outdoor workers?

Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2018, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention determined heat stroke tops the list of weather-related deaths in the United States. Each year an average of 658 people in the U.S. succumb to extreme heat.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began a Heat Illness Prevention campaign in 2011 in order to effectively educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in extreme heat. Under OSHA law, employers are held responsible for providing workers with protection from extreme heat.

Employers are expected to:

  1. Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  2. Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  3. Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  4. Monitor workers for signs of illness.

Additionally, OSHA urges employers to establish complete heat illness prevention programs.

In June 2018, OSHA and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool as a resource for planning outdoor work activities based on real-time heat indexes and hourly forecasts specific to your job-site location.

The app helps measure risk level during exposure to extreme heat to determine safe exposure times, additional precautions to be taken, and safe lengths of time spent working before you need to take a break.

The Heat Tool should be used by supervisors and workers to more easily recognize when additional preventative options should be implemented. As the heat index increases, more water and rest breaks may become necessary. If conditions are of an extreme risk, it may be necessary to reschedule non-essential work.

The app is free and can be downloaded from the iPhone App store or Android’s Google Play, and it is also available in Spanish.

For more information about safety while working in the heat, see OSHA’s heat illness webpage:

Valerie Gorman

Project Scientist




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