Heat Stress in the Workplace & its Effects on Employees

Job-related heat stress is a major contributor to heart-related ailments and deaths worldwide. According to CDC stats, over five million individuals in the USA suffer from work-related heat stress, and thousands of them lose their lives per year.

Heat stress in the workplace doesn’t necessarily imply sunlight related stress; it can arise from hot working environments and other factors like operating in departments with extreme temperatures, heavy tasks, or poor ventilation.

Agencies such as NIOSH and OSHA have laid strict laws that govern workplace heat stress management and develop ways to ensure heat safety.

The 4-levels of Work-Related Stress

A person’s body is said to be under heat stress if it experiences a series of overheating conditions. Stress resulting from high temperatures can be categorized in four levels.

  1. Heat Stroke.

Heatstroke is a severe heat complication, and often considered a health emergency. Some of the common signs include extreme dehydration, incoherent speech, a racing heart, headache, seizure, unconsciousness, and in the worst situations, death.

Heatstroke victims usually have body temperatures exceeding 1050F.

When you come across individuals suffering from heatstroke, it’s advisable to contact 911 immediately, and stay with the victim till help arrives. Meanwhile, bystanders should try to cool the victim’s temperature by all means possible.

For example, you should consider applying a wet cloth on the victim’s forehead, armpits, or neck, giving them fluids rich in electrolytes, switching a fan on if accessible, and laying them down in a straight position with their legs facing upwards.

Once the victim is stable, you can place them in the recovery pose until emergency medical services arrive.

  1. Heat Exhaustion/Prostration/Collapse.

Heat exhaustion isn’t as severe as heat stroke, but is still fatal to many individuals. Examples of heat exhaustion indicators are; extraordinary thirst, rapid sweating followed by a sensation of cool skin, muscle weakness, low urine output, cramping sensations, and nausea.

If you experience any of the above manifestations while working, it’s advisable to go outside the workspace and remove any excess attires, particularly around your neckline and head.

After that, take a lot of water (at least a liter) slowly to avoid nausea. If you don’t see improvements after roughly half an hour, seek medical assistance.

Individuals with hypertension, the elderly, and those with jobs in extremely hot environments are highly susceptible to heat exhaustion.

  1. Heat Rash.

Heat rash is another form of heat effect characterized by itchiness, clogged sweat glands, sunburn, or redness of the skin. This condition occurs due to skin irritation from extreme sweating on scorching sunny days

All these effects are a source of discomfort and distraction at the workplace, which might later affect workers’ performance and health in general.

The heat rash area should always be dry, and it would be best to avoid applying ointments on them. Instead, use powder medication.

2 Critical Ways to Control Heat Stress in the Workplace

Normally, the suitable temperature for a human body stands at around 370C, and certain body processes like sweating and blood circulation ensure this temperature remains within that range through homeostasis.

However, extremely high temperatures can hinder the body’s cooling process, which might cause heat stress. Other factors, such as unhealthy lifestyles, drug use, and aging, can affect a person’s cooling system. Preventing any form of heat stress is far much better than curing it.

Therefore, it’s best to watch out for any heat-related signs and address them as soon as they arise. Other than the protection the employer offers, workers must also take the initiative to protect themselves from heat stress in the workplace. Some of the heat stress control measures that help in workplace stress management include;

  1. Personal level control measures.

On a personal level, train workers to prevent job-related stress in the following ways;

  • Avoid high-levels of drugs like alcohol, and caffeine while you are on the job.
  • Keep fit.
  • If possible, avoid working in areas with direct sunlight or extreme temperatures.
  • Take small breaks when working.
  • Use suitable heat and sunlight PPEs
  • Wear long-sleeve shirts and visors.
  • Take enough water daily. It’s advisable to pre-hydrate before you start working and drink water after every 20-30 minutes. It’s not advisable to take flavored water because it doesn’t quench thirst as fast as water.
  • Discuss with a colleague to watch out and inform you any symptoms that may arise.
  • With a doctor’s approval, you can increase your salt intake.
  • Put on light, dull-colored, and loosely fitting clothing when working in hot environments (except it your work involves moving machines).
  • Wear suitable PPE.


  1. Employer’s initiatives in controlling job-related heat stress.

Employers have a bigger part to play in the prevention of heat stress in the workplace. Examples of such ways include;

  • Training employees on how to handle, detect, and treat heat-related complications.
  • Provide workers with enough drinking water every day. Other than water, you can offer fluids containing a high amount of electrolytes, such as Gatorade.
  • Encourage employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take water frequently.
  • Give new employees or those from leaves time to get used to the new working conditions. Acclimating to hot working conditions usually takes 4-9 days.
  • Adjust the organization’s working schedule. For example, scheduling heavier tasks to be done during cooler hours (morning hour or evenings) and the lighter ones during the hot hours.
  • Provide breaks, shift schedules, and robust air conditioning in the hot workplaces. Rest periods you offer should depend on the level of heat exposure, type of work, and total exposure time.
  • Individuals working in hotter conditions and doing heavy duties will definitely require more or frequent breaks.
  • Invest more in sturdy machines to avoid a high use of physical labor.
  • Initiate a program for heat prevention that will benefit your workplace and workers
  • Be careful about who you assign various tasks. Don’t assign the elderly and employees with heart-related diseases in hot working conditions, which is why it’s very important to know and understand your employees.

Impacts of Personal Protective Equipment on Heat Stress Management.

If other control measures don’t work, PPEs are usually the last and best option in controlling any safety-related issues, including heat stress. However, as much as the protective equipment helps to reduce the degree of heat exposure, other kinds aggravate heat-related ailments.

Examples of PPEs capable of increasing heat stress in the workplace are; boots, water-resistant aprons, respirators, face-guards, surgical gowns or caps, and gloves.

These tools are usually crucial in protecting the body against several hazardous situations, such as harmful chemicals, viruses, or injuries.

Some of the ways such PPEs hinder with the body’s normal cooling process include:

  1. Tampering with the usual way the body eliminates heat, for example, sweating and blood circulation
  2. Retaining a lot of heat inside them, thus increasing the body temperature.
  3. Adding weight that will, in turn, require the worker to utilize more effort when performing tasks
  4. Retaining sweat that may later cause rashes, discomforts, or skin diseases

When there’s too much heat stress in the workplace, the employer must look for a safety professional to ensure workers operate in a hazard-free environment. Some of the things to consider when picking the most suitable heat protective gear include;

  • The duration which employees will have to wear the PPE
  • The environmental conditions at the time
  • The working area and space
  • The worker’s fitness state, rate of working, and adjustment.
  • The level of heat exposure

As an alternative, workers can use supplementary cooling systems to minimize heat stress in the workplace. These systems can include cooling vests, air, and water-cooled garments, or wet clothes. Your firm can choose such systems depending on the cost, simplicity, or use.

However, such systems can limit the worker’s operating area; for example, water-cooled wears usually require connection to a system that supplies cool water. Besides the limitations mentioned above, these systems are heavy, making them inconvenient in most working conditions.


Any employer should not overlook any signs of heat stress in the workplace. The best way to recognize and minimize heat stress is by addressing any emerging heat stress signs, whether mild or severe.

Employers should equip workers with effective heat-protection tools. Furthermore, workers need training on how to identify heat-related symptoms, best control measures, and treatment methods. With the above tips, both workers and employers can have heat-free working environment.