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A Unit of The Enterprise Innovation Institute
June 6, 2023

Keeping Safe as the Heat Creeps Up

man on scaffolding in the heat

Use these tips to stay safe this summer.

May is heat illness prevention month. In Georgia and the South, summer brings particular challenges for manufacturers who may work in hot, un-air-conditioned buildings or construction workers who are outside in the relentless sun and humidity all day. Let the experts in Georgia Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) group help prepare your business for the heat with resources and know-how to keep your employees cool and safe as temperatures rise.

Heat illness can bring significant costs to employers, including decreased performance by employees, lost productivity, and even death. Dehydration, which can precede illness, can adversely affect decision making, reduce reaction time, and impact job performance.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent heat stress or illness in your workplace:

    • Learn the symptoms and response procedures;
    • Provide training to supervisors and employees on the company’s heat stress prevention procedures;
    • Provide periods of rest and shade or air-conditioned space for breaks and set company policies for use of break times;
    • Ensure workers drink plenty of fluids and avoid caffeinated beverages
    • Allow new and returning workers to build tolerance for the heat (75% of heat fatalities occur in the first few days of working in a hot environment) and take frequent breaks;
    • Use air conditioning and increased ventilation in hot, humid indoor spaces;
    • Modify work schedules to avoid hot days or times of day.

Studies by the SHES team on hard hats and hydration illustrate how important it is to have the proper equipment and water on both construction and manufacturing jobsites.

Hard hat heat risks

Experts in the SHES group conducted a Head Protection Temperature Study to determine what types of hard hats keep workers safe, while also keeping them cool. As hard-hat technology has evolved to protect against traumatic brain injury, it’s important to consider how personal protective gear – including hard hats – can impact heat related stress.

For the study, conducted at an OSHA Partnership jobsite in Atlanta, researchers set up six different types of white hard hats in the sun. A water-soaked sponge was placed under each to simulate perspiration and measure water loss. During the study, no significant difference in thermal stress was recorded among the white hard hats of different styles. Other studies, demonstrated that darker colored hats show significant heat loading as compared to the white ones, because the white hats better reflect the sun.

Together with the appropriate attention to providing shade/cooling areas, rest breaks, and adequate hydration and training, head protection selection should be considered as a component of proper heat illness prevention management.

Water, Water Everywhere

One of the most important ways to keep heat illness at bay is with proper hydration. A 2016 OSHA Partnership jobsite study conducted by the SHES team at a large commercial construction site, found room for improvement in the hydration status of the crews. Hydration was encouraged among the workers, but there was no requirement or monitoring for fluid intake.

A pre-study survey found that most of the participants had not received training on heat illness prevention. About 80% of participants said that supervisors had asked about water consumption, but only 30% of supervisors had encouraged them to drink water.

To measure consumption during the study, researchers installed hydration sensors in Camelbak hydration bladders, which they gave to 16 workers. The researchers monitored the participant’s weight daily, assessed self-reported thirst levels, took environmental measurements, and measured activity levels.

Following the study, the self-reported consumption of water had increased from approximately 5 16-oz. bottles daily to about 8 16-oz. bottles. Those amounts were still well below the OSHA suggested 15 16-oz. bottles daily during periods of moderately high temperatures (91°-104°F).

Comments from the research participants indicated that even non-participants were drinking more. They watched as their crew mates emptied and refilled the bladders and that encouraged them to try to catch up on consumption. Participants also reported drinking more because of the convenience of the Camelbaks. Having water with them all the time, rather than having to stop work to go get a bottle, made it easier to drink more.

Recommendations followed the realization that while most workers believed it was possible to maintain proper hydration at work, none of the workers were in fact drinking enough water.

The most important recommendation is training about the actual amounts of water workers should be drinking, the frequency, and the use of weight loss as a way to determine dehydration at the end of the day.

An easy way to get much of this information across is to post a hydration chart that shows how much employees should drink in a day or an hour.

The experts at SHES can help your business create a heat illness prevention plan that will keep your employees safe and keep your business humming along.

Check out our templates for implementing a heat illness prevention plan as well as additional heat illness related resources:

We also offer these tipsheets for dealing with heat illness risks in indoor and outdoor work sites.