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Avoiding the dangers of heat stress



Summer is upon us and that means more hot and humid weather. But for those who work in greenhouses and outdoors, it can make for long—even dangerous—days. Heat illnesses and deaths are preventable, if you know what to do. That’s where a prevention program comes in. OSHA has several recommendations for employers:


  • Provide workers with water, rest, and shade
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase their workloads and take more frequent breaks until they’ve built a tolerance for working in the heat
  • Train workers how to avoid and identify heat illness
  • Observe workers for signs of trouble

Normally, the body sweats to cool off in hot and humid weather. But if it’s particularly humid, sweating may not be enough. That can cause the body’s internal temperature to rise to a dangerous level. That’s when heat exhaustion or heat stroke can strike. Here are some ways to help avoid the danger:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes—even if you aren’t thirsty
  • Take a rest in the shade to cool down
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing

Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees, so extra rest and water breaks are required. Tasks that require heavy protective clothing or equipment can also make a worker more susceptible to heat illnesses. Be sure to check on them at regular intervals, but realize all workers are at risk during a heat wave. Here’s what to look out for:

Heat stroke

Call 911 immediately and notify a supervisor if there are signs of:

  • Lack of sweating with red, hot, dry skin
  • High body temperature (only a medical professional can get an accurate reading)
  • Rapid pulse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion, strange behavior, agitation, hallucinations, disorientation
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Fainting

Heat exhaustion

Call a supervisor for help or 911 if they’re not available if you see signs of:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Cramps
  • Weakness
  • Sweaty skin
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fatigue

If there are signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, here are some basic first aid measures:

  • Have someone stay with the worker until help arrives
  • Start the cooling process immediately, and:
    • Get the person into the shade or air-conditioning
    • Fan while misting the victim with water to promote evaporation and cooling
    • Give them fluids if they’re conscious and able to drink (do not give alcohol or caffeine)
    • Remove outer clothing if possible
    • Apply cool water to the victim using what’s available (garden hose, sponge, shower, etc.)
    • Place ice packs or cool towels on the back of their neck, under armpits, and groin
  • If the person stops breathing, perform CPR

California regulations

The state of California has taken it one step further and drafted regulations that require heat illness prevention. Employers in that state must do four things:

  • Training: All employees and supervisors must know and understand the dangers of heat illness and how to prevent it.
  • Water: Employers must provide enough water so workers can drink a quart each hour and encourage them to do so.
  • Shade: Workers must have access to shade and be allowed to rest to cool down. They should not wait until feeling sick before resting.
  • Planning: Employers must develop and implement procedures for complying with the California Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

This is just a basic summary of California’s Heat Illness Prevention Program. The actual regulations are more detailed and must be followed by all employers in that state. Check out California’s Department of Industrial Relations webpage for common questions and answers about heat illness prevention.

It’s important to understand the dangers of heat illnesses and the things you can do to prevent your workers from getting hurt, or worse. For more information, go to the Department of Labor’s webpage dealing with heat illnesses.

As always, if you have questions about heat safety—or any safety issue—your Hortica agent is ready to talk with you about ways we can help protect your business.

For more information on protecting your business, check out the Hortica Resources section.

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