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

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

People 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 heat and humidity that can lead to various types of heat illness.

The Sanford Health Occupational Medicine Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, recommends 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.

Avoid injuries by easing into your work and getting used to the heat, especially if you’ve never worked outside before. Also, stay hydrated, wear protective clothing that allows sweat to wick away from the body and avoid high sugar drinks.

Sunscreen protection

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.

Heat illness 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


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

Preventing heat illness at work

  • 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

Learn more

Posted In Health Information, Healthy Living, Workplace Health