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How to Identify Heat-Related Illnesses

Posted by Kristin Bowen on Jul 11, 2018 8:00:00 AM

GettyImages-807753548A 2019 study from The Center for Construction Research and Training revealed that construction workers, who compose 6% of the total workforce, accounted for 36% of all occupational heat-related deaths from 1992 to 2016 in the U.S. Furthermore, cement masons were ten times more likely to die from heat than the average construction worker; roofers and helpers were seven times more likely. 

If you or your staff have to work outdoors in the heat, be sure to follow these tips:


  • Limit your time in the heat.
  • Increase your recovery time spent in a cool environment.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you are not thirsty. Avoid very sugary drinks as they can cause you to lose more body fluid.
  • Wear and reapply sunscreen as stated on the package.
  • Schedule tasks earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and a brimmed hat.
  • Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work.
  • Learn how to identify heat-related sicknesses.

Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat Cramps
Heat cramps typically occur when exercise results in excessive sweating. This lowers the amount of fluid and salt in the body. These low levels in the muscles result in the cramping. Heat cramps may also be an indication of heat exhaustion. Heat cramps usually appear as muscle soreness or spasms, and typically occur in the abdomen, arms, and legs.

An individual experiencing heat cramps should cease all activity and rest in a cool place. Since heat cramps are caused by the loss of salts and fluids, it is important to replenish these with either sports drinks or juice. Also, refrain from any strenuous activity for at least two hours after the cramp since further exertion could lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that occurs after prolonged exposure to extreme heat in combination with insufficient fluids. Symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating                                                                        GettyImages-590302275
  • Cramping
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Paleness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting


While milder than heat stroke, heat exhaustion must still be dealt with swiftly. If someone is experiencing any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, begin cooling them immediately. Move them into a shaded area or air-conditioned room, then give them cool, non-alcoholic liquids. The application of moist towels or a cool bath/shower is also a successful treatment.

Heat Stroke
Heat stroke occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its own temperature. People suffering from heat stroke are unable to cool themselves by sweating. Once this happens, the body’s temperature can rise above 106 degrees within 10 – 15 minutes. If not treated properly, heat stroke can result in death or permanent disability. Symptoms include:

  • Extremely high body temperature
  • No sweating; skin will be clammy, red, hot, and dry
  • Extreme headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid pulse

When someone experiences heat stroke, it is important to act quickly. First, call for emergency medical assistance and then begin cooling the victim by moving them to a shaded or air-conditioned area. Then directly cool them using cool towels or blankets. Do not give them anything to drink.

Check out these other great resources on heat safety.

OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App

NIOSH Heat Stress

American Red Cross

Do you have any tips or related information you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you; please share them in the box below. 

Topics: contractor, commercial & residential building trades, construction, heat

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