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Summer Hazards for Workers

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outdoor workerDuring the summer, more workers are performing job tasks outdoors. The types of jobs can vary greatly ranging from construction work to farming and other agricultural duties to road paving and painting. While the hazards can be different from those found in indoor environments, there are still practical ways to protect workers from outdoor hazards.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has worked to compile information regarding various outdoor work hazards and offer safety and health resources to assist employers and workers in avoiding these hazards.

During the summer months, heat illness (including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, cramps, and fatigue) is a prevalent issue for outdoor workers as well as those working indoors. It is not uncommon for outdoor workers to endure temperatures over 100° F during their work day. In another example, heating and air-conditioning contractors in home attics can encounter temperatures of 120° F or more. Many workers in foundries and mines work in hot conditions year round often made worse in the summer months. The NIOSH document Working in Hot Environments provides a detailed overview of the hazards of working in heat and offers prevention measures.

Tips for preventing heat illness include:

  • Adjust work schedules to provide workers with a rest from the heat
  • Postpone nonessential tasks
  • Provide cool rest areas as well as shade and water for workers
  • Wear proper protective clothing
  • Ensure workers are drinking enough water to stay hydrated
  • Allow workers time to acclimate to the hot environment
  • Educate workers and supervisors to recognize heat illness and how to prevent it

NIOSH recently contributed to the development of the new Cal/OSHA Heat Illness eTool, which provides general information on heat illness and its causes in outdoor workplaces.

Other hazards faced by outdoor workers include exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which can cause sun burns and potentially skin cancer; noise, which may cause hearing damage; pesticides or other chemical hazards; as well as traumatic injury hazards and the potential for natural hazards such as lightning strikes.

In addition to the physical hazards described above, outdoor workers can face biological hazards such as vector-borne diseases, venomous wildlife and insects, and poisonous plants. Mosquito and tick bites can transfer disease-causing agents, such as West Nile virus or Lyme disease. Outdoor workers also have to be careful around venomous insects and wildlife. Poisonous spiders, snakes, and insects can be found throughout the U.S., varying with the geographic regions. These insects and animals can be especially dangerous to workers who may have a known or unknown allergy. Every year thousands of individuals are stung and as many as 40-50 people may die from severe allergic reactions. Poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, oak and sumac can cause allergic reactions if a worker’s skin comes into contact with the leaves or stalks. If these plants or their leaves are burned, the toxins released can be inhaled by workers, causing rashes or lung irritations as a result. More information on all of the hazards described above can be found on the NIOSH topic page Hazards to Outdoor Workers.

As we have already seen this year, summer brings with it the risk of wildfires, storms, and floods. NIOSH offers resources for fighting wildfires and storm and flood cleanup. Among the many hazards associated with storms and floods is the use of gasoline powered generators, pumps and power tools. Using these devices in buildings or semi-enclosed spaces can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning including permanent neurological damage and death. Carbon monoxide poisoning has also caused over 100 deaths and 600 illnesses on houseboats and other recreational boats due to hazardous levels of exhaust from generators and propulsion engines.

We have touched on many of the hazards encountered by outdoor workers. However, additional hazards may exist for particular outdoor jobs. NIOSH recommends that employers and workers be aware of and trained to recognize potential dangers associated with the outdoor work in which they may be engaged, of ways to identify those hazards, and ways to prevent risk of injury or illness.

What innovative practices, methods, or tools have you used, or are aware of, that have helped to protect workers from hazards of heat, insect-borne diseases, and other conditions associated with working outdoors? NIOSH is always interested in information that will help inform its ongoing research.

—Christina Bowles

Christina Bowles is a Health Communication Specialist at NIOSH. She has an M.A. in Health Communication and works in the Office of the Director in Washington, D.C.

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27 comments on “Summer Hazards for Workers”

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    I am a last year student from UiTM Shah Alam. I would like to express your assistance in completing my dissertation, a study on heat stress in the workplace at a food factory. So the objective of the study is a measurement heat stress index. So where and how can I get some instruction for do the measurement properly?

    Thank you for your question. NIOSH provides guidelines on various methods for measuring heat stress in the document Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Hot Environments (Revised Criteria 1986). This document discusses how to collect wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) measures and how to estimate workers’ metabolic rates. The document also discusses how to interpret the results by comparing to the WBGT index. The WBGT index is the most commonly used heat stress index in the United States. The document also discusses other common heat stress indices.

    You can find examples where the WBGT index was used to assess heat stress in the following NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation reports:

    ◦Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 2004-0334-3017, Transportation Security Administration, Palm Beach International Airport, West Palm Beach, Florida
    ◦Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 2003-0311-3052, Evaluation of Heat Stress at a Glass Bottle Manufacturer, Lapel, Indiana
    Other organizations, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists and the American National Standards Institute, provide guidelines on how to collect heat stress measurements. Links to these and additional resources can be found on the NIOSH heat stress web page.

    Thanks for the great information! We can’t reach everyone, but the way to get the information out is to ensure that workers are provided proper training. Our company conducts training for hundreds of full-time and seasonal municipal employees of parks, lifeguarding, recreation, and forestry departments, also highway department workers. We also conduct Mine Safety training for hundreds of workers in surface gravel pits and quarries. Whatever the job, recognize the hazards faced year round by outdoor employees, and provide the information.

    Another risk not well evaluated for summer job in agricultural tasks like harvest is the dust, specially with crystalline silica.

    I myself have suffered from heat stroke and it is horrible. Although with all of the potential risks of working outdoors during the summer months I think that education is the best way to prevent it. A lot of people just don’t know what to look for with heat stroke, or think that a little bee could cause loss of life.

    I know that you folks already work diligently to educate others, hence this article, but this will never reach most of the people that actually work outdoors, so the question is how can you get the information to the people that need it?

    Thank you for your comment. As you note, getting the information to workers and employers is critical to preventing these hazards. In addition to this blog post, NIOSH has multiple topic pages on its website dealing with these issues. As referenced in the blog, NIOSH was recently involved in the development of the new Cal/OSHA Heat Illness eTool which strives to educate workers and employers about the recognition and prevention of heat-related illness. Additionally, we have authored several articles in trade journals (American Association of Occupational Health Nurses and American Society of Safety Engineers) to further raise awareness. A recent NIOSH study in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report on heat-related deaths among crop workers received wide press coverage. NIOSH also continues to publish documents and other educational materials to help prevent heat-related illness and other summer hazards. We would welcome suggestions from those in the field as to how best communicate this important information.

    [My workplace] (name and address removed) has no air because its broke I just recently quit/fired.. and someone needs to say something to them.. when I worked there I got over heated and everything.. people get dizzy and sick.. HAZARD*

    *The comment author was provided with OSHA contact information as NIOSH is a research organization and OSHA is a regulatory and enforcement organization who has the authority to investigate worker complaints.

    I am a graduate student in a risk assessment course at Old Dominion University. Additionally, I am employed in a full time position that requires me to be out in the elements of nature every day of the week. I am exposed to the physical hazards of extreme heat and cold, biological hazards such as poisonous plants and venomous wildlife, and occasionally some chemical (pesticides) and safety (trench) hazards. We know that the government has taken an interest in regulating product (i.e. food) safety, but generally has less to do with regulating the conditions in which workers, such as me, are exposed to when working outdoors. What role, if any, does NIOSH think the government should play in recognizing, evaluating and addressing the risks workers exposed to the elements see in the field? Within your research, have you found that education of or legislation requiring worker safety has made a bigger impact concerning the safety of workers exposed to nature?

    Thanks for your comments and your insights into outdoor work. NIOSH is dedicated to studying workplace safety and health and, with its partners, is committed to preventing occupational injuries and illnesses for all workers.

    The federal government is involved in the regulation of outdoor workplaces. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required by law to provide workplaces free from recognized hazards. The law does not distinguish between indoor and outdoor work. It sets a framework under which NIOSH has responsibility for conducting research and making science-based recommendations, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for setting and enforcing regulations. For an authoritative response on regulatory issues, such as mandatory requirements for employers pertinent to outdoor work, we would refer those questions to OSHA. NIOSH’s work in conducting research for better understanding specific outdoor work hazards, developing recommendations from that research, and providing authoritative resources to employers and workers is reflected in our web topic page for outdoor workers. We are unaware of any research examining whether education or legislation has ‘made a bigger impact’ concerning safety in outdoor work. As a rule, regulation, research, education, training, and legislation all have roles in addressing workplace hazards. How they are applied in a given situation, and which will be most effective in that situation, likely will depend on the specific circumstances of the situation.

    Safety Sunglasses are a must Out here in field. Our office Sends us All information About the heat so we are well informed. Thanks

    Do you think I could get enough information out of this article to formulate a decent Safety Alert?

    Thank you for your question. The blog entry provides some basic information on the hazards of summer work, but you may also wish to consult further NIOSH resources that contain additional information. Our topic page on Hazards to Outdoor Workers contains information and links on the multiple hazards that workers whose jobsites are in outdoor environments may face. This includes information on heat stress, cold stress, biological hazards, and vector-borne diseases.

    Good to take initiative on such studies. It is better to adjust the time schedule at summer seasons to avoid injuries due to heat.

    what are iteams we want to arrange for out door workers to prevent heat related illness, iteam means what the medicines or any tablets or any type of energy drink is required

    The NIOSH Heat Stress topic page ( offers suggestions for preventing and treating heat-related illness. To prevent heat stress, workers should know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses; monitor themselves and coworkers; use cooling fans or air-conditioning; take regular breaks in the shade or cool areas; drink water or clear juice; avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks; and wear lightweight light colored, loose-fitting clothes. Employers should develop comprehensive heat stress prevention programs. I am not aware of medicines or tablets that prevent heat illness.

    Dr. Tepper is a Branch Chief in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies.

    Hi there. I am a firefighter in Florida and we have many concerns regarding working and training outdoors during the summer months due to the heat, humidity and heat index. Obviously, we cannot curtail our emergency responses for virtually any reason, but we are concerned about training or other non-emergency related work during these extreme conditions. Are you aware of any guidelines for emergency services personnel or others that recommend restricting or reducing their training or workload during these times?

    Thank you for your response…


    I am having trouble finding statistics related to heat stress induced lost time. I have read the study on crop workers but am more interested in a general industtry type statistic.

    BLS includes “Heatstroke, sunstroke, heat exhaustion, heat stress and other effects of environmental heat” in its databases. You can search nonfatal and fatal data for the nation and for states from the most current Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

    Additionally, a colleague recently informed me that the State of Washington recently issued new rules for heat stress.

    On this website they posted an economic analysis which was required by their rule making process. The economic analysis (PDF) may include some of the statistics you seek.

    This summer I am working with a company as a safety intern. Recently I started temperature mapping, measuring the temperature and humidity at various work areas. The forklifts are places that reach the hightest temperatures, exceeding 120 degrees F. Aside from frequent brakes, and drinking fluids, what are other options/solutions to reducing the heat and minimizing heat stress. The small fans do not cool the air and prolonged exposure puts the operators at a high risk.

    While I have not seen the operation, some ideas to reduce the potential for heat stress of workers on forklifts include:

    ◦Develop a heat stress management program that includes heat-acclimatization of new employees or of employees following a vacation/absence from the hot environment, education on working in hot environments, environmental monitoring of heat exposures, and heat-related illness surveillance.
    ◦Provide a cool location or the use of man coolers (such as mist cooling fans or swamp coolers) for the employees to use while on breaks.
    ◦Use the NIOSH REL or ACGIH TLV for heat stress to calculate the appropriate work/rest regiment for employees (amount of time working to the amount of time they take a break in a cooler environment).
    ◦Allow employees to take unscheduled breaks if they report feeling week, nauseated, excessively fatigued, confused, and/or irritable during hot temperatures.
    ◦Create a buddy system so that employees can monitor each other for symptoms of heat disorders.
    ◦If the forklifts are used outside, provide a cover on them to make shade for the employee.
    ◦Ensure that employees stay hydrated and do not lose more than 1.5% body weight during their shift.
    Additionally, for assistance with your specific concern, you can request information from NIOSH through the Health Hazard Evaluation Program.

    The following NIOSH resources may also be helpful:

    ◦Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2003-3052, evaluation of heat stress at a glass bottle manufacturer
    NIOSH Heat Stress Topic page
    Working in Hot Environments (this is a good tool to use during training)

    Very useful info! Is there a ranking of industries based on the worker’s exposure to heat? Or any statistic that can allow to make such a ranking? Thanks in advance for your time and valuable help.

    Involving beneficiaries is an opportunity to allow them to gain greater control over the environmental health and safety concerns that affect their lives and the success of their enterprises. The understanding that is taught to and developed with beneficiaries will serve them well in the often unstable world of the informal sector and increasingly changing rural setting. Involving beneficiaries will help to ensure that the style and format of checklists and educational materials, such as posters and pictures indicating dangerous situations, are effective. Beneficiaries should be encouraged to present their own ideas about every topic including complex issues such as toxic substances.

    Funny, but we have experienced a rash of heat related symtoms in the NW at 90 degrees and none here in TX at triple digits = acclimatization!

    When working outside it is best to work in the shade but if you are exposed to the sun then wear a hat to stay shaded. Big hats with big brims that block more than 97.5% of UV rays and have UPF 50+ are ideal when working outside.

    I was in an office environment, enjoying the air conditioning inside. I then changed career paths to working outdoor and I learnt the hard way of the effect of working in working in the summer heat. I must thank you guys for the information here and have made sure to follow all the tips listed here!

    I live in the Philippines and when it can really get very hot here. When working outdoors during these hot times, it is good to take a break from the sun often and hydrate yourself with water, preferably cold very well.

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