When we think of heat-related illnesses at work, we tend to think of them occurring during the summer months. But even when work environments are indoors, heat exposure from various sources can lead to illness, accidents, and unsafe work conditions year round. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, there were 4,420 workers who were affected by heat-related illnesses – indoors or out – and 61 workers who died from them.

The body’s inability to adequately cool itself is a common cause of heat-related illnesses outdoors during the hot summer months, but this can occur indoors, as well. External sources of heat injury on the job can include direct contact with steam or a hot surface, and the body’s natural reactions to heat exposure can also lead to an increased risk of accidents from sweaty palms, fogged eyewear, and lightheadedness.

To help keep employees safe when the going gets hot, training should include ways to limit heat exposure and how to identify signs of heat-related illness. Worksite procedures should emphasize the importance of acclimatization and how it is developed, particularly for workers who are new to working in the heat or those who are returning to the job after a week or more away.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Thermometer.jpgThe best way to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler, where possible, such as by using engineering controls (air conditioning, cooling fans, insulating hot surfaces, eliminating steam leaks, etc.) to reduce exposure.

OSHA recommends the following practices for managing work in a hot environment, whether indoors or outdoors:

To help determine the heat index for a given worksite, a figure that can be used to calculate workers’ level of risk for heat-related illnesses, OSHA has developed a free mobile device application (available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html) in both English and Spanish. Based on the heat index figure, the” Heat Safety Tool” displays level of risk to outdoor workers and allows the user to access reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that point to protect workers from heat-related illness.