6 Tips for Working Safely in the Heat

There’s something wonderful and freeing about working outdoors under blue skies, fresh air, and sunshine. However, this also means you and your crews are vulnerable to all types of weather, not just the idyllic and mild, which leads to bigger occupational hazards than the papercuts and cold coffee of a traditional office setting.

Heat stress is one of the most common and severe risks for those working in hot weather.  Heat exposure from working outdoors has been responsible for more than 3,500 yearly illnesses and injuries involving days away from work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Studies show that 18 of the last 19 summers have been the hottest on record and the three-year average of heat-related deaths on the job has tripled in the last 30 years, which only intensifies the concern about the dangers of working outside.  In response, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a special initiative for workplace heat safety in April 2022.

As part of the initiative, OSHA inspectors now visit outdoor job sites in “high-risk” industries (including landscaping services) on heat warning or advisory days to ensure that employers provide crews working outside in hot weather access to water, rest, and shade, and proper training in heat stress management. They’ll also check to see if managers have been implementing acclimatization procedures for new or returning employees.

Any violations will be met with stiff penalties. OSHA’s maximum fines for serious and other-than-serious violations are now $13,653 to $14,502 per violation. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations is now $145,027 per violation, per OSHA.gov.  As you can see, it’s more important than ever to protect your employees from heat-induced sickness and your business from hefty OSHA penalties by creating or updating your protocols for working safely outdoors.

Graphic of a thermometer with sun shining hotly in background

What is heat stress?

Heat stress is essentially any injury or illness caused by exposure to heat.  Heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps, per the CDC.  As a manager, it’s important to know the symptoms of these illnesses and how to manage them to maintain the safety of your crew.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and occurs when the body can’t regulate its temperature and it becomes dangerously high.  Without emergency treatment, they risk death or permanent disability, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

What are the symptoms of heat-related illness?

Once you know the different ways heat can affect you and your workers, you can be on the lookout for signs and symptoms. You can also take the proper preventative measures. That’s why teaching heat safety tips in the outdoor workplace is so important, especially for new employees.

Here is a breakdown of heat stress disorders and their symptoms, per the CDC:

Heat stroke:

Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to cool itself down, resulting in dangerously high temperatures.  If not treated quickly, this can lead to permanent injury and death. The symptoms include:

  • Dry, hot, skin or profuse sweating
  • High body temperature
  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Confusion or slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Heat Exhaustion 

This is defined as the body’s response to the loss of water and salt, typically through sweating.  The symptoms are:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness and/or confusion
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps
  • Elevated body temperature

Heat cramps: 

Heat cramps can occur when workers are doing physical activity in the heat.  It is painful cramps in the body’s muscles due to low salt levels, usually from sweating.  Symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain or spasms – typically in the abdomen, arms, or legs
  • Heat rash (an irritation of the skin caused by excessive sweating):

Dehydration is also a huge risk when working outdoors without drinking enough fluids.

The main symptoms of dehydration can include thirst, pale/dry skin, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, confusion, dry mouth, fast heart rate/breathing, and less-frequent urination, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

6 Heat Safety Tips For Outdoor Workers

An estimated 75% of heat-related deaths occur in the first week of employment. That’s why training and prevention are so crucial for new outdoor workers, according to OSHA.

Here are some helpful workplace safety tips for working in the heat that you can easily implement at your company:

1. Take time to acclimate

For employees who are new to outdoor work, use the 20% Rule—they should spend just 20% (or two hours in a 10-hour day) of their time working outdoors.  This should increase by 20% every other day as they build up a tolerance for working in the heat.

Also, if there’s a drastic jump in temperature, all outside workers should start cutting their time outside in half. They can then slowly increase their workload back to normal over the course of the next four work days.

2. Take frequent breaks

It’s important to take breaks from the hot weather on a regular basis. Rest, recover, and rehydrate in the shade or an air-conditioned indoor area. This can include the car or truck interior after it has been cooled down with air-conditioning.

3. Dress lightly

Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing, sunscreen, and hats for added protection (as long as it doesn’t diminish the effects of required safety gear), and this actually includes long sleeves and pants. Contrary to popular belief, wearing less clothing isn’t better or safer—long sleeves and pants made from breathable fabrics do a better job of shielding you from the sun’s radiant heat and UV rays, per OSHA.

4. Watch what you eat and drink

OSHA guidelines for working in the outdoor heat include drinking a liter (about a quart) of water over the course of an hour, or one cup every fifteen minutes. Before work, eat smaller meals and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Also, ask your doctor if the medicines you’re on don’t pose any risks to those working in hot temperatures.

5. Keep an eye on the weather

Whether you’re a manager or crew member, make sure you monitor the weather and heat index, so you can determine the risk level and take the associated precautions. There are many apps that can help, like the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool.

6. Use the buddy system

Work outside with someone else, or partner up at a large worksite to make sure everyone stays safe and can get quick help if showing signs of heat-related illness.

What should you or your crew do in an emergency? 

Managers and crew members should follow these steps if they think someone is having a heat-related emergency, per Mayo Clinic:

1. Call 911 immediately

You should always call medical professionals immediately if someone shows signs of heat stroke, severe heat exhaustion, or distress.

2. Cool the person down

Remove the person from the hot area and take off their outer clothing, plus unnecessary items like shoes and socks. Place something wet and cold, like a towel soaked in water, on their neck and head until help arrives. You can also offer them cool liquids to drink. 

Work smarter and safer

Having heat-stress guidelines and safety tips in place for employees working outdoors in the heat is the smart, safe thing to do.  Working more efficiently can also reduce the amount of time your workers spend outside.

Reinders offers products that reduce the time landscaping, irrigation, and turf crews spend working in the heat.  Visit Reinders Turf & Landscaping for all your needs!

If you’re ever in need of a cold drink, head into any of our stores.  We offer complimentary cold bottled water and Gatorade at all our locations to help our busy customers combat the summer heat.

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