Three tips to avoid heat stress

Updated May 10, 2024

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For those who work outside, keeping cool is a must as the temperature climbs. Heat stress can result in heat rashes, cramps, exhaustion, and in the most severe instances, heat stroke.

There are a number of ways to keep your cool on the job.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has free materials on heat-related illness prevention with helpful advice.

Here are three tips for avoiding heat stress:

1. Cool clothing. The dead of summer is not the time to wear that form-fitting black t-shirt that looks great on you. Your clothing should be light-colored and loose-fitting. Also, avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing – choose natural fibers such as cotton. Sometimes, you can’t avoid wearing hot or heavy protective gear. Keep in mind this will up the chance of heat stress and plan your breaks accordingly.

2. Schedule smartly. While you should gradually build up to your heaviest work, keep an eye on the weather forecast. You should plan your heaviest work during the coolest parts of the day. Don’t forget to boost your breaks. During periods of extreme heat and humidity, more frequent breaks should be taken, and in a cool, shaded area.

3. Heavy hydration. During extreme heat, up your water intake. According to NIOSH, you should drink approximately 1 cup of water every 15 minutes. NIOSH also recommends that you drink enough water so that you do not ever become thirsty. Of course, alcohol, with its dehydrating properties, is a big no-no. Also, avoid drinks with a lot of sugar or caffeine.

If at any time while working you experience the signs of heat stress – heavy sweating, extreme weakness or fatigue, dizziness or confusion, nausea, clammy skin, pale or flushed complexion, muscle cramps, or fast and shallow breathing – stop working immediately. Relocate to a cool and shady area (or one with air conditioning) and drink lots of water. If possible, take a cool shower or bath. If no shower is available, sponge down in a restroom with cool water.

Want more tips on staying cool? Download NIOSH’s “Preventing Heat-related Illness or Death of Outdoor Workers” for additional information.

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