Skillsoft Blog

Employee Safety When Working in the Summer Heat

By Donna McEntee

According to the National Weather Service, “Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In the heat wave of 1995 more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat.  In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.” Preliminary numbers from OSHA, indicate that there were 19 heat-related worker fatalities reported from June through August of 2013. The sun brings special hazards for those working outdoors. With summer approaching, now is the time to think about how to keep employees safe from heat stress.

Here are some precautions that just may save a life.

  • Drink small amounts of water frequently.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing—cotton is good.
  • Take frequent short breaks in cool shade.
  • Eat smaller meals before work activity.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
  • Work in the shade.
  • Find out from your health care provider if your medications and heat don’t mix.
  • Know that equipment such as respirators or work suits can increase heat stress.

The combination of heat, humidity and physical labor can lead to fatalities. The two most serious forms of heat related illnesses are heat exhaustion (primarily from dehydration) and heat stroke, which could be fatal. When heat stroke doesn’t kill immediately, it can shut down major body organs causing acute heart, liver, kidney and muscle damage, nervous system problems, and blood disorders.

Signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke need immediate attention. Recognizing those warning signs and taking quick action can make a difference in preventing a fatality. Employers and employees should know the potential hazards in their workplaces and how to manage them.

Signs of heat exhaustion

  • Headache
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Weakness
  • Wet skin
  • Irritability
  • Thirst
  • Nausea or vomiting (get immediate medical assistance)


Signs of heat stroke

  • May be confused
  • May be unable to think clearly
  • May pass out
  • May collapse
  • May have seizures (fits)
  • May stop sweating


Having a serious injury or death occur at work affects everyone at the worksite. Employees suffering from heat exhaustion and heat stroke are also at greater risk for accidents since they are less alert and can be confused. Compliance training for employees is critical, so that they can recognize heat stress and know what to do. Skillsoft has compliance elearning courses available for Heat Stress Recognition and Prevention and Basic First Aid and First Aid for Medical Emergencies.

Donna McEntee is an Environmental, Safety & Health (ES&H) Solution Manager at Skillsoft.

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