Using the Heat Index to Protect Workers
The heat index can be used to help determine the risk of heat-related illness for outdoor workers, what actions are needed to protect workers, and when those actions are triggered. Depending on the heat index value, the risk for heat-related illness can range from lower to very high to extreme. As the heat index value goes up, more preventive measures are needed to protect workers. Heat index values are divided into four bands associated with four risk levels. These bands differ from those appearing in the NOAA Heat Index chart, which was developed for the public. The NOAA bands have been modified for use at worksites:
The employer’s response at the four risk levels is the subject of the remainder of this guide. The steps employers should take in response to an elevated heat index are the same type of steps that they would follow to address other hazards in the workplace:
STEP 1: Develop a heat-related illness prevention plan before heat index levels rise.
Use the Protective Measures to Take at Each Risk Level to inform your planning. The plan should address:
STEP 2: Train workers before it gets hot. Train workers about safe work practices before heat index levels go up. Prepare workers so that they recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, how to prevent it, and what to do if someone has symptoms. Reinforce the training on hot days.
For heat-related illness prevention training tools and resources, go to Training Resources. OSHA’s factsheets and worksite posters (in English and Spanish) can help in communicating key messages about heat safety and health.
STEP 3: Track the weather for the worksite daily and assess the risk to workers. Know how hot it will be during scheduled work activities and use this information to determine which preventive measures should be taken.
Check with the National Weather Service to get the current or predicted heat index values and see a map of areas under excessive heat warning across the U.S. The heat index is also announced by television and radio stations as part of the local weather. Monitor weather reports daily to remain prepared for high heat index levels. Use OSHA's Heat Smartphone App to check the heat index for your worksite and see reminders about the protective emasures for the specified risk level.
STEP 4: Implement your plan when the heat index is at or above 80° Fahrenheit. Adjust risk level based on site conditions (direct sunlight vs. shaded, with breeze), work load, and type of protective clothing.
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