CDC Report Urges Acclimatization to Heat at Work

Heat illness and death in the workplace may be mitigated through acclimatization

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) During high-heat times like the summer, heat-related workplace illnesses and deaths spike. But workers may not be in as much danger if they take it slow.

In a study of workplace-related heat illness and death, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the most important factor in avoiding heat-related death was taking time to get used to the temperature.

"Beat the heat with water, rest and shade."

The study was written by Sheila Arbury, MPH, of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Office of Occupational Health Nursing, and colleagues.

The authors reviewed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records from 2012 to 2013 detailing federal investigations into heat-related workplace incidents.

The researchers looked at 20 cases, 13 of which involved worker deaths from heat exposure. Seven of the cases involved two or more workers with symptoms of heat illness.

According to the CDC, exposure to heat puts workers at risk of heat stress, which can cause heat illness and death.

Human bodies cool down by sweating. But when the weather is really hot, body temperature can continue to rise during exposure.

Heat illness is typically marked by cramps, rash, exhaustion and dizziness. Heat stroke occurs when body temperature hits 106 degrees Fahrenheit (F) — and it can be fatal.

Young children, older adults, sick people and people who are overweight face an increased risk.

Of the cases reviewed, nine took place at outdoor worksites dedicated to ship repair, landscaping, roofing and oil servicing. The indoor cases the authors reviewed involved local heat sources like laundry equipment or combustion engines.

All the cases of heat illness and death happened on days with a heat index (a measure of temperature and humidity) of 84 to 105.7 F.

The authors noted that the outdoor cases could have been up to 15 F higher than reported due to exposure to direct sunlight.

OSHA defines employer processes to identify and counteract the risk of heat illness and death.

The core message of the OSHA campaign is “Water. Rest. Shade.” Another component is what’s called an acclimatization program that gradually exposes workers to the hot workplace.

Four of the 13 deaths in the report happened on the first day, the study authors reported.

The researchers reinforced the need to let workers get used to heat.

“Strikingly, in the cases reviewed, the failure to support acclimatization appears to be the most common deficiency and the factor most clearly associated with death,” the authors wrote.

The CDC published the report online Aug. 7.

The authors did not disclose funding information or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 7, 2014
Last Updated:
August 7, 2014