Working in the heat: How to identify and avoid heat illness

"Injuries can be avoided by easing into your work and getting used to the heat."

A construction worker carries wood and a drill on a building site in the sunshine. Construction workers are especially susceptible to heat illness due to prolonged work outside.

Although many people spend their workdays indoors, those working long days outside must be conscious of the heat and the effects it can have on their bodies. Construction workers, farmers, landscapers and lifeguards are among those exposed to prolonged amounts of heat and humidity that can lead to various types of heat illness.

John Beauclair, M.D. at the Sanford Health Occupational Medicine Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, said one of the most important ways to reduce the risk of heat illness is to get acclimated to the warm weather before jumping right into work.

“Injuries can be avoided by easing into your work and getting used to the heat, especially if you’ve never worked outside before,” he said. “Stay hydrated, wear protective clothing that allows sweat to wick away from the body and avoid high sugar drinks. It’s better to consume things like Gatorade that have electrolytes.”


Beauclair’s colleague, Emily Hanson, RN, said wearing sunscreen is another necessary precaution to protect yourself from heat illness and sunburn. She recommends using a high SPF sunscreen and reapplying multiple times throughout the day.

“More common places that people forget to apply sunscreen to is the top of their feet if they’re wearing sandals or on the scalp area,” she said.

Hanson also suggests wearing long sleeve shirts and covering up the skin as much as possible, or seeking shade whenever available.

Signs and symptoms

Heat illness includes the following conditions:

Heat cramps

  • Sweating
  • Pain in arms, legs, abdomen

Heat exhaustion

  • Moist, pale skin
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Fatigue, fainting
  • Headache, confusion
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Rapid pulse and breathing

Heat stroke

  • No sweating
  • Dry, hot, red skin
  • Confusion, loss of consciousness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Temperature over 103 degrees
  • Seizures


  • Know signs and symptoms
  • Use buddy system
  • Drink plenty of cool fluids, 2-4 glasses/hour
  • Sip small amounts frequently
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Avoid heavy meals and hot foods
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing
  • Rest regularly in a cool area

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Posted In Health Information, Workplace Health

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