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Heat illness prevention for employees

Water bottle


Summer is here and that means we can expect hot and humid weather. For workers who spend their time outdoors or in greenhouses, 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 some recommendations for employers like you:


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

Normally, sweating counters overheating through the cooling effect of evaporation. High heat and hard work increase heat build-up, while high humidity reduces evaporation. These factors can combine to raise the body’s internal temperature to dangerous levels where heat exhaustion or heat stroke can strike. Here are some things you can have your workers do to protect themselves:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes—even if they 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 we encourage you to provide your workers with extra rest and water breaks. 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 keep in mind all workers are at risk during a heat wave.

Share these safety tips with your employees, so they know what to look for—and how to respond:

Heat exhaustion

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

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

Heat stroke

Call 911 immediately and notify your supervisor if you see 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 or seizures
  • Fainting

If a worker shows 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:
    • Get the person into the shade or air conditioning
    • Fan the worker while misting them with water to promote evaporation and cooling
    • Give them fluids if they’re conscious and able to drink—but don’t give them 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

The state of California has taken it one step further and drafted regulations that require heat illness prevention. Under the code, 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 shouldn’t wait to take a rest until after they begin feeling sick.
  • Planning: Employers must develop and implement procedures for complying with the California Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

Even if your business isn’t located in California, we encourage you to consider implementing similar safety strategies.

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.

Related links:

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

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