Preventing Heat Stroke at Work

Heat stroke poses a major health risk to workers in industries where extreme heat conditions are prevalent, such as construction or industrial sites.

According to a 2021 OSHA notice, 31,560 work-related heat injuries occurred between 2011 and 2019. Between 1992 and 2019, there were 907 worker heat-related deaths, with an average of 32 deaths per year— a number that has doubled since the early 1990s.

If you work in a hot indoor or outdoor environment, you and your employer can take steps to avoid heat-related injuries while on the job. Knowing how to prevent heat stroke can help you stay safe at work during the hot Missouri summer.

What is a Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that can occur when workers are exposed to extreme heat in their jobs, often when working outdoors under the scorching sun or in a hot factory environment. In Missouri, where summer temperatures reach 90℉ or higher, heat stroke can happen quickly if workers and their employers do not take proper precautions.

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels, typically above 104℉. It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. Heat stroke is often a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures, especially in environments where the body’s ability to cool itself is compromised, such as in hot factories or outdoor work settings.

There are two types of heat stroke: exertional and non-exertional. Exertional heat stroke occurs during physical activity or strenuous labor in hot environments. Non-exertional heat stroke can happen from prolonged exposure to high temperatures without physical exertion, often in hot factories or enclosed spaces.

Symptoms of heat stroke include dizziness, confusion, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and loss of consciousness. If left untreated, heat stroke can result in organ damage and death.

Employer Responsibility for Creating a Safe Working Environment

Employers are responsible for creating a safe working environment for their employees to prevent heat stroke injuries. This includes taking precautions to protect workers from excessive heat, such as:

  • Adequate breaks: Employers must provide regular breaks for workers to rest and recover in a cool or sheltered area away from direct sunlight or heat sources.

While multiple breaks in hot environments are vital to worker health, Missouri does not mandate breaks, including lunch hours, for any worker over 16.

  • Ample access to water: Employers should ensure an adequate supply of fresh and cool drinking water is readily available to workers throughout the workday. Hydration is essential in preventing heat stroke, and employers must encourage and facilitate frequent water intake.

Although OSHA does not set drinking requirements beyond access to potable water, the CDC recommends drinking about a cup or 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes when working in sweltering temperatures.

  • Training and education: Employers should provide comprehensive training programs to educate workers about the risks and symptoms of heat stroke and the importance of preventive measures. This includes instructions on recognizing early signs of heat-related illnesses in themselves and their colleagues.
  • Heat acclimatization programs: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 50% to 70% of work-related heat fatalities occur in the first few days of hot weather. Employers may implement acclimatization programs that gradually increase employee workload or provide more frequent breaks to help new workers and those returning to a job after time away build a tolerance for working in the heat.

Safety Tips for Preventing Heat Stroke at Work

While your employer is responsible for creating a safe work environment, you can also take steps to protect yourself from the heat. When working in hot weather, do the following:

  • Keep hydrated: Drink lots of water throughout the day, even if you do not feel thirsty. Stick with water when possible and avoid drinks with caffeine or sugar, which can contribute to dehydration.
  • Dress for the heat: Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing that allows air circulation and helps in moisture evaporation. Use hats or other protective gear to shield yourself from direct sunlight.
  • Seek shade: Whenever possible, work in shaded areas or create shade using umbrellas, canopies, or other available means to reduce direct exposure to the sun’s heat.
  • Use cooling aids: Use cooling aids such as cold towels, misting fans, or cooling vests to lower your body temperature during hot work conditions.
  • Know emergency procedures: Know the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and the emergency response protocols established by your workplace. Seek immediate medical attention if necessary.
  • Report unsafe conditions: Inform your supervisors or safety personnel about any hazardous conditions or inadequate measures in place to mitigate heat-related risks.

Speak With a Workplace Injury Attorney

Heat stroke is a serious heat-related injury that can happen when employers fail to protect their workers in hot conditions. You may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if you suffered heat stroke due to your employer’s actions.

Our workers’ compensation attorneys at Cofman Townsley can review the circumstances of your heat stroke injury and help you understand your options for compensation. We will help you file your workers’ compensation claim to receive the benefits you are entitled to.

If you were injured due to the actions of a third party, such as a contractor or worksite operator, we can help you seek compensation through a personal injury settlement. Contact our legal team today to schedule a free consultation and learn your legal options.