Individual susceptibility to heat-related illness can vary widely between workers. Workers become gradually acclimatized when exposed to hot conditions for several weeks. Physical changes in blood vessels and in sweating occur to dissipate heat more effectively. When the heat index is high, special precautions are needed to protect un-acclimatized workers while they adjust, particularly on the first few days of the job.
- Develop a heat acclimatization program and plans that promote work at a steady moderate rate that can be sustained in the heat. For example, new workers and those returning from a prolonged absence should begin with 20% of the workload on the first day, increasing incrementally by no more than 20% each subsequent day. During a rapid change leading to excessively hot weather or conditions such as a heat wave, even experienced workers should begin on the first day of work in excessive heat with 50% of the normal workload and time spent in the hot environment, 60% on the second day, 80% on day three, and 100% on the fourth day. Full acclimatization may take up to 14 days or longer depending on factors relating to the individual, such as increased risk of heat illness due to certain medications or medical conditions, or the environment.
- Determine how you will lessen the intensity of workers' work during the adjustment period.
- Keep in mind that acclimatization can occur naturally for outdoor workers in a hot climate as the weather changes. However, implementing acclimatization activities is essential for new workers, workers who have been out sick or on vacation, and all workers during a heat wave. Be extra-careful with these workers and recognize immediately the symptoms of possible heat-related illness.
- During a sudden heat spike, determine how you will protect your workers from conditions resulting from sudden exposure to heat.
Why Workers Must Be Acclimatized1
Some health conditions can put workers at greater risk of heat-related illness. These include diabetes, kidney and heart problems, pregnancy, and being overweight.
Source: Adapted from Page 10 in OSHA's Heat-related Illness Prevention Training Guide
Humans are, to a large extent, capable of adjusting to the heat. Much of this adjustment to heat, under normal circumstances, usually takes about 5 to 7 days, during which time the body will undergo a series of changes that will make continued exposure to heat more endurable. However, it may take up to several weeks for the body to fully acclimatize.
On the first day of work in a hot environment, the body temperature, pulse rate, and general discomfort will be higher. With each succeeding daily exposure, all of these responses will gradually decrease, while the sweat rate will increase. When the body becomes acclimatized to the heat, the worker will find it possible to perform work with less strain and distress.
Gradual exposure to heat gives the body time to become accustomed to higher environmental temperatures. Heat disorders in general are more likely to occur among workers who have not been given time to adjust to working in the heat or among workers who have been away from hot environments and who have gotten accustomed to lower temperatures. Hot weather conditions of the summer are likely to affect the worker who is not acclimatized to heat. Likewise, workers who return to work after a leisurely vacation or extended illness may be affected by the heat in the work environment. Whenever such circumstances occur, the worker should be gradually reacclimatized to the hot environment.
People who have not worked in hot weather for a week or more need time for their bodies to adjust. They need to take more breaks and not do too much strenuous work during their first weeks back on the job.
- About the Heat Index
- Using the Heat Index to Protect Workers
- Protective Measures to Take at Each Risk Level
|Heat Index||Risk Level||Protective Measures|
|Less than 91°F||Lower (Caution)||Basic heat safety and planning|
|91°F to 103°F||Moderate||Implement precautions and heighten awareness|
|103°F to 115°F||High||Additional precautions to protect workers|
|Greater than 115°F||Very High to Extreme||Triggers even more aggressive protective measures|
How can OSHA help? Workers have a right to a safe workplace. If you think your job is unsafe or have questions, visit OSHA's Worker's Page or call 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA). It's confidential. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
OSHA also provides help to employers. OSHA's On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. For more information or for additional compliance assistance contact OSHA at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA).