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Heat Related Illness

As summer rolls on the heat index numbers will creep into the danger zone for heat stress emergencies. Heat stress is an equal opportunity hazard that affects anyone who is exposed to excess heat and is being physically active in that environment. Heat stress is an occupational hazard, but the exposure extends to any group exposed to high heat conditions. This includes family picnics, youth events and outdoor festivals and celebrations.

Some groups are more susceptible to experiencing heat stress. These groups include underlying medical conditions, lack of physical fitness, previous episodes of heat related illness, alcohol consumption and certain medication. People who are new to being in warm environments are at increased risk of heat-related illness.

Recognizing Heat Related Illness

In most cases heat related emergencies are a progressive set of symptoms. The table below shows the type of heat related illness and the corresponding symptoms starting with the first stages of the exposure.

First Aid for Heat Related Illness

First aid for heat-related illness involves the following principles:

  • Take the affected person to a cooler area (e.g., shade or air conditioning).

  • Cool the person immediately. Use active cooling techniques such as:

  • Immerse the worker in cold water or an ice bath. Create the ice bath by placing all of the available ice into a large container with water, standard practice in sports. This is the best method to cool people rapidly in an emergency.

  • Remove outer layers of clothing, especially heavy protective clothing.

  • Place ice or cold wet towels on the head, neck, trunk, armpits, and groin.

  • Use fans to circulate air around the worker.

  • Never leave a person with heat-related illness alone. The illness can rapidly become worse. Stay with the person

  • When in doubt, call 911!

Confusion, slurred speech, or unconsciousness are signs of heat stroke. When these types of symptoms are present, call 911 immediately and cool the person with ice or cold water until help arrives.

Prevention of Heat Related Illness – Rest water and shade


Be sure to provide cool water drink. Proper hydration is essential to prevent heat-related illness. For those working two hours or more, also provide access to additional fluids that contain electrolytes.

For short jobs, cool potable water is sufficient. Encourage your group to drink at least one cup (8 ounces) of water every 20 minutes while working in the heat, not just if they are thirsty.

For events or activities that last more than two hours, you should provide electrolyte-containing beverages such as sports drinks. People lose salt and other electrolytes when they sweat. Substantial loss of electrolytes can cause muscle cramps and other dangerous health problems. Water cannot replace electrolytes; other types of beverages are needed.

Water or other fluids provided should not only be cool, but should also be provided in a location that is familiar, easy to access, and in sufficient quantity for the duration of the event. Do not rely on feeling thirsty to prompt them to drink. Remind people to drink on a regular basis to maintain hydration throughout the activity.


Breaks should last long enough for people to recover from the heat. How long is long enough? That depends on several factors including environmental heat (WBGT) and the physical activity level, as well as the individual personal risk factors. The location of the breaks also matters. If people rest in a cooler location, they will be ready to resume activity more quickly. Breaks should last longer if there is no cool location for people to rest.


Workers should be given a cool location where they can take their breaks and recover from the heat.

Outdoors, this might mean a shady area, an air-conditioned vehicle, a nearby building or tent, or an area with fans and misting devices.

Indoors, workers should be allowed to rest in a cool or air-conditioned area away from heat sources such as ovens and furnaces.

The Driehaus Difference

We recommend that you visit the OSHA website for more information about heat related illness. You can reach us at 513-977-6860 for more insurance and risk management information. Visit our website at for additional information and contact points.



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