Heat Stress Safety Management

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Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for inducing heat stress in employees engaged in such operations. Such places include: iron and steel foundries, nonferrous foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, rubber products factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectioneries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, chemical plants, mining sites, smelters, and steam tunnels.

Outdoor operations conducted in hot weather, such as construction, refining, asbestos removal, and hazardous waste site activities, especially those that require workers to wear semipermeable or impermeable protective clothing, are also likely to cause heat stress among exposed workers.


1. Age, weight, degree of physical fitness, degree of acclimatization, metabolism, use of alcohol or drugs, and a variety of medical conditions such as hypertension all affect a person's sensitivity to heat. However, even the type of clothing worn must be considered. Prior heat injury predisposes an individual to additional injury.

2. It is difficult to predict just who will be affected and when, because individual susceptibility varies. In addition, environmental factors include more than the ambient air temperature. Radiant heat, air movement, conduction, and relative humidity all affect an individual's response to heat.


1. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (1992) states that workers should not be permitted to work when their deep body temperature exceeds 38°C (100.4°F).

2. Heat is a measure of energy in terms of quantity.

3. A calorie is the amount of heat required to raise 1 gram of water 1°C (based on a standard temperature of 16.5 to 17.5°C).

4. Conduction is the transfer of heat between materials that contact each other. Heat passes from the warmer material to the cooler material. For example, a worker's skin can transfer heat to a contacting surface if that surface is cooler, and vice versa.

5. Convection is the transfer of heat in a moving fluid. Air flowing past the body can cool the body if the air temperature is cool. On the other hand, air that exceeds 35°C (95°F) can increase the heat load on the body.

6. Evaporative cooling takes place when sweat evaporates from the skin. High humidity reduces the rate of evaporation and thus reduces the effectiveness of the body's primary cooling mechanism.

7. Radiation is the transfer of heat energy through space. A worker whose body temperature is greater than the temperature of the surrounding surfaces radiates heat to these surfaces. Hot surfaces and infrared light sources radiate heat that can increase the body's heat load.

8. Globe temperature is the temperature inside a blackened, hollow, thin copper globe.

9. Metabolic heat is a by-product of the body's activity.

10. Natural wet bulb (NWB) temperature is measured by exposing a wet sensor, such as a wet cotton wick fitted over the bulb of a thermometer, to the effects of evaporation and convection. The term natural refers to the movement of air around the sensor.

11. Dry bulb (DB) temperature is measured by a thermal sensor, such as an ordinary mercury-in-glass thermometer, that is shielded from direct radiant energy sources.


A. HEAT STROKE occurs when the body's system of temperature regulation fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. This condition is caused by a combination of highly variable factors, and its occurrence is difficult to predict. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. The primary signs and symptoms of heat stroke are confusion; irrational behavior; loss of consciousness; convulsions; a lack of sweating (usually); hot, dry skin; and an abnormally high body temperature, e.g., a rectal temperature of 41°C (105.8°F). If body temperature is too high, it causes death. The elevated metabolic temperatures caused by a combination of work load and environmental heat load, both of which contribute to heat stroke, are also highly variable and difficult to predict.

If a worker shows signs of possible heat stroke, professional medical treatment should be obtained immediately. The worker should be placed in a shady area and the outer clothing should be removed. The worker's skin should be wetted and air movement around the worker should be increased to improve evaporative cooling until professional methods of cooling are initiated and the seriousness of the condition can be assessed. Fluids should be replaced as soon as possible. The medical outcome of an episode of heat stroke depends on the victim's physical fitness and the timing and effectiveness of first aid treatment.

Regardless of the worker's protests, no employee suspected of being ill from heat stroke should be sent home or left unattended unless a physician has specifically approved such an order.

B. HEAT EXHAUSTION. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, vertigo, weakness, thirst, and giddiness. Fortunately, this condition responds readily to prompt treatment. Heat exhaustion should not be dismissed lightly, however, for several reasons. One is that the fainting associated with heat exhaustion can be dangerous because the victim may be operating machinery or controlling an operation that should not be left unattended; moreover, the victim may be injured when he or she faints. Also, the signs and symptoms seen in heat exhaustion are similar to those of heat stroke, a medical emergency.

Workers suffering from heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot environment and given fluid replacement. They should also be encouraged to get adequate rest.

C. HEAT CRAMPS are usually caused by performing hard physical labor in a hot environment. These cramps have been attributed to an electrolyte imbalance caused by sweating. It is important to understand that cramps can be caused by both too much and too little salt. Cramps appear to be caused by the lack of water replenishment. Because sweat is a hypotonic solution (±0.3% NaCl), excess salt can build up in the body if the water lost through sweating is not replaced. Thirst cannot be relied on as a guide to the need for water; instead, water must be taken every 15 to 20 minutes in hot environments.

Under extreme conditions, such as working for 6 to 8 hours in heavy protective gear, a loss of sodium may occur. Recent studies have shown that drinking commercially available carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids is effective in minimizing physiological disturbances during recovery.

D. HEAT COLLAPSE ("Fainting"). In heat collapse, the brain does not receive enough oxygen because blood pools in the extremities. As a result, the exposed individual may lose consciousness. This reaction is similar to that of heat exhaustion and does not affect the body's heat balance. However, the onset of heat collapse is rapid and unpredictable. To prevent heat collapse, the worker should gradually become acclimatized to the hot environment.

E. HEAT RASHES are the most common problem in hot work environments. Prickly heat is manifested as red papules and usually appears in areas where the clothing is restrictive. As sweating increases, these papules give rise to a prickling sensation. Prickly heat occurs in skin that is persistently wetted by unevaporated sweat, and heat rash papules may become infected if they are not treated. In most cases, heat rashes will disappear when the affected individual returns to a cool environment.

F. HEAT FATIGUE. A factor that predisposes an individual to heat fatigue is lack of acclimatization. The use of a program of acclimatization and training for work in hot environments is advisable. The signs and symptoms of heat fatigue include impaired performance of skilled sensorimotor, mental, or vigilance jobs. There is no treatment for heat fatigue except to remove the heat stress before a more serious heat-related condition develops.



1. Under conditions of high temperature and heavy workload, determine the work-load category of each job (Table III:4-1 and Figure III:4-1). Work-load category is determined by averaging metabolic rates for the tasks and then ranking them:
◦ Light work: up to 200 kcal/hour
◦ Medium work: 200-350 kcal/hour
◦ Heavy work: 350-500 kcal/hour

2. Cool Rest Area: Where heat conditions in the rest area are different from those in the work area, the metabolic rate (M) should be calculated using a time-weighted average, as follows:

Equation III: 4-1. Average Metabolic Rate

where: M = metabolic rate
t = time in minutes

In some cases, a videotape is helpful in evaluating work practices and metabolic load.


◦ Light hand work: writing, hand knitting
◦ Heavy hand work: typewriting
◦ Heavy work with one arm: hammering in nails (shoemaker, upholsterer)
◦ Light work with two arms: filing metal, planing wood, raking the garden
◦ Moderate work with the body: cleaning a floor, beating a carpet
◦ Heavy work with the body: railroad track laying, digging, barking trees

Sample Calculation: Assembly line work using a heavy hand tool

Walking along

2.0 kcal/min

Intermediate value between heavy work with two arms

3.0 kcal/min

Add for basal metabolism

1.0 kcal/min


6.0 kcal/


Body position and movement








Walking uphill

add 0.8 for every meter (yard) rise

Type of work

Header 1 / 2

Header 1 / 3

Hand work






Work: One arm






Work: Both arms






Work: Whole body








Very heavy


* For a "standard"worker of 70 kg body weight (154 lbs) and 1.8m2 body surface (19.4 ft2).


A. BODY TEMPERATURE MEASUREMENTS. Although instruments are available to estimate deep body temperature by measuring the temperature in the ear canal or on the skin, these instruments are not sufficiently reliable to use in compliance evaluations.

B. ENVIRONMENTAL MEASUREMENTS. Environmental heat measurements should be made at, or as close as possible to, the specific work area where the worker is exposed. When a worker is not continuously exposed in a single hot area but moves between two or more areas having different levels of environmental heat, or when the environmental heat varies substantially at a single hot area, environmental heat exposures should be measured for each area and for each level of environmental heat to which employees are exposed.


1. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) should be calculated using the formula below. The WBGT for continuous all-day or several hour exposures should be averaged over a 60-minute period. Intermittent exposures should be averaged over a 120-minute period. These averages should be calculated using the following formula:

Equation III:4-2. Average Web Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT)

For indoor and outdoor conditions with no solar load, WBGT is calculated as:
WBGT = 0.7NWB + 0.3GT
For outdoors with a solar load, WBGT is calculated asWBGT = 0.7NWB + 0.2GT + 0.1DB

where: WBGT = Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index
NWB = Nature Wet-Bulb Temperature
DB = Dry-Bulb Temperature
GT = Globe Temperature

2. The exposure limits in Table III:4-2 are valid for employees wearing light clothing. They must be adjusted for the insulation from clothing that impedes sweat evaporation and other body cooling mechanisms. Use Table III:4-3 to correct Table III:4-2 for various kinds of clothing.

3. Use of Table III:4-2 requires knowledge of the WBGT and approximate workload. Workload can be estimated using the data in Table III:4-1, and sample calculations are presented in Figure III:4-1.

D. MEASUREMENT. Portable heat stress meters or monitors are used to measure heat conditions. These instruments can calculate both the indoor and outdoor WBGT index according to established ACGIH Threshold Limit Value equations. With this information and information on the type of work being performed, heat stress meters can determine how long a person can safely work or remain in a particular hot environment.


------------- Work Load* ------------

Work/rest regimen




Continuous work

30.0°C (86°F)

26.7°C (80°F)

25.0°C (77°F)

75% Work, 25% rest, each hour

30.6°C (87°F)

28.0°C (82°F)

25.9°C (78°F)

50% Work, 50% rest, each hour

31.4°C (89°F)

29.4°C (85°F)

27.9°C (82°F)

25% Work, 75% rest, each hour

32.2°C (90°F)

31.1°C (88°F)

30.0°C (86°F)

*Values are in °C and °F, WBGT.

These TLV's are based on the assumption that nearly all acclimatized, fully clothed workers with adequate water and salt intake should be able to function effectively under the given working conditions without exceeding a deep body temperature of 38°C (100.4° F). They are also based on the assumption that the WBGT of the resting place is the same or very close to that of the workplace. Where the WBGT of the work area is different from that of the rest area, a time-weighted average should be used (consult the ACGIH 1992-1993 Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents and Biological Exposure Indices (1992).

These TLV's apply to physically fit and acclimatized individuals wearing light summer clothing. If heavier clothing that impedes sweat or has a higher insulation value is required, the permissible heat exposure TLV's in Table III:4-2 must be reduced by the corrections shown in Table III:4-3.


1. The Effective Temperature index (ET) combines the temperature, the humidity of the air, and air velocity. This index has been used extensively in the field of comfort ventilation and air-conditioning. ET remains a useful measurement technique in mines and other places where humidity is high and radiant heat is low.

2. The Heat-Stress Index (HSI) was developed by Belding and Hatch in 1965. Although the HSI considers all environmental factors and work rate, it is not completely satisfactory for determining an individual worker's heat stress and is also difficult to use.


Clothing type

Clo* value

WBGT correction

Summer lightweight



Working clothing

Cell 2 / 3

Cotton coveralls



Winter work clothing



Water barrier, permeable



*Clo: Insulation value of clothing. One clo = 5.55 kcal/m2/hr of heat exchange by radiation and convection for each degree °C difference in temperature between the skin and the adjusted dry bulb temperature.

Note: Deleted from the previous version are trade names and "fully encapsulating suit, gloves, boots and hood" including its clo value of 1.2 and WBGT correction of -10.


Ventilation, air cooling, fans, shielding, and insulation are the five major types of engineering controls used to reduce heat stress in hot work environments. Heat reduction can also be achieved by using power assists and tools that reduce the physical demands placed on a worker.

However, for this approach to be successful, the metabolic effort required for the worker to use or operate these devices must be less than the effort required without them. Another method is to reduce the effort necessary to operate power assists. The worker should be allowed to take frequent rest breaks in a cooler environment.


1. The human body can adapt to heat exposure to some extent. This physiological adaptation is called acclimatization. After a period of acclimatization, the same activity will produce fewer cardiovascular demands. The worker will sweat more efficiently (causing better evaporative cooling), and thus will more easily be able to maintain normal body temperatures.

2. A properly designed and applied acclimatization program decreases the risk of heat-related illnesses. Such a program basically involves exposing employees to work in a hot environment for progressively longer periods. NIOSH (1986) says that, for workers who have had previous experience in jobs where heat levels are high enough to produce heat stress, the regimen should be 50% exposure on day one, 60% on day two, 80% on day three, and 100% on day four. For new workers who will be similarly exposed, the regimen should be 20% on day one, with a 20% increase in exposure each additional day.

B. FLUID REPLACEMENT. Cool (50°-60°F) water or any cool liquid (except alcoholic beverages) should be made available to workers to encourage them to drink small amounts frequently, e.g., one cup every 20 minutes. Ample supplies of liquids should be placed close to the work area. Although some commercial replacement drinks contain salt, this is not necessary for acclimatized individuals because most people add enough salt to their summer diets.


1. General ventilation is used to dilute hot air with cooler air (generally cooler air that is brought in from the outside). This technique clearly works better in cooler climates than in hot ones. A permanently installed ventilation system usually handles large areas or entire buildings. Portable or local exhaust systems may be more effective or practical in smaller areas.

2. Air treatment/air cooling differs from ventilation because it reduces the temperature of the air by removing heat (and sometimes humidity) from the air.

3. Air conditioning is a method of air cooling, but it is expensive to install and operate. An alternative to air conditioning is the use of chillers to circulate cool water through heat exchangers over which air from the ventilation system is then passed; chillers are more efficient in cooler climates or in dry climates where evaporative cooling can be used.

4. Local air cooling can be effective in reducing air temperature in specific areas. Two methods have been used successfully in industrial settings. One type, cool rooms, can be used to enclose a specific workplace or to offer a recovery area near hot jobs. The second type is a portable blower with built-in air chiller. The main advantage of a blower, aside from portability, is minimal set-up time.

5. Another way to reduce heat stress is to increase the air flow or convection using fans, etc. in the work area (as long as the air temperature is less than the worker's skin temperature). Changes in air speed can help workers stay cooler by increasing both the convective heat exchange (the exchange between the skin surface and the surrounding air) and the rate of evaporation. Because this method does not actually cool the air, any increases in air speed must impact the worker directly to be effective.

6. Heat conduction methods include insulating the hot surface that generates the heat and changing the surface itself.

7. Simple engineering controls, such as shields, can be used to reduce radiant heat, i.e. heat coming from hot surfaces within the worker's line of sight. Surfaces that exceed 35°C (95°F) are sources of infrared radiation that can add to the worker's heat load. Flat black surfaces absorb heat more than smooth, polished ones. Having cooler surfaces surrounding the worker assists in cooling because the worker's body radiates heat toward them.

With some sources of radiation, such as heating pipes, it is possible to use both insulation and surface modifications to achieve a substantial reduction in radiant heat. Instead of reducing radiation from the source, shielding can be used to interrupt the path between the source and the worker. Polished surfaces make the best barriers, although special glass or metal mesh surfaces can be used if visibility is a problem.

Shields should be located so that they do not interfere with air flow, unless they are also being used to reduce convective heating. The reflective surface of the shield should be kept clean to maintain its effectiveness.


1. Training is the key to good work practices. Unless all employees understand the reasons for using new, or changing old, work practices, the chances of such a program succeeding are greatly reduced.

2. NIOSH (1986) states that a good heat stress training program should include at least the following components:

◦ Knowledge of the hazards of heat stress;
◦ Recognition of predisposing factors, danger signs, and symptoms;
◦ Awareness of first-aid procedures for, and the potential health effects of, heat stroke;
◦ Employee responsibilities in avoiding heat stress;
◦ Dangers of using drugs, including therapeutic ones, and alcohol in hot work environments;
◦ Use of protective clothing and equipment; and
◦ Purpose and coverage of environmental and medical surveillance programs and the advantages of worker participation in such programs.

3. Hot jobs should be scheduled for the cooler part of the day, and routine maintenance and repair work in hot areas should be scheduled for the cooler seasons of the year.


1. Every worker who works in extraordinary conditions that increase the risk of heat stress should be personally monitored. These conditions include wearing semipermeable or impermeable clothing when the temperature exceeds 21°C (69.8°F), working at extreme metabolic loads (greater than 500 kcal/hour), etc.

2. Personal monitoring can be done by checking the heart rate, recovery heart rate, oral temperature, or extent of body water loss.

3. To check the heart rate, count the radial pulse for 30 seconds at the beginning of the rest period. If the heart rate exceeds 110 beats per minute, shorten the next work period by one third and maintain the same rest period.

4. The recovery heart rate can be checked by comparing the pulse rate taken at 30 seconds (P1) with the pulse rate taken at 2.5 minutes (P3) after the rest break starts. The two pulse rates can be interpreted using Table III:4-4.

5. Oral temperature can be checked with a clinical thermometer after work but before the employee drinks water. If the oral temperature taken under the tongue exceeds 37.6°C, shorten the next work cycle by one third.

6. Body water loss can be measured by weighing the worker on a scale at the beginning and end of each work day. The worker's weight loss should not exceed 1.5% of total body weight in a work day. If a weight loss exceeding this amount is observed, fluid intake should increase.

F. OTHER ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROLS. The following administrative controls can be used to reduce heat stress:

◦ Reduce the physical demands of work, e.g., excessive lifting or digging with heavy objects;
◦ Provide recovery areas, e.g., air-conditioned enclosures and rooms;
◦ Use shifts, e.g., early morning, cool part of the day, or night work;
◦ Use intermittent rest periods with water breaks;
◦ Use relief workers;
◦ Use worker pacing; and
◦ Assign extra workers and limit worker occupancy, or the number of workers present, especially in confined or enclosed spaces.


Heart rate recovery pattern


Difference between 
P1 and P3

Cell 1 / 1

Cell 1 / 2

Cell 1 / 3

Satisfactory recovery



Cell 3 / 1



Cell content




A. REFLECTIVE CLOTHING, which can vary from aprons and jackets to suits that completely enclose the worker from neck to feet, can stop the skin from absorbing radiant heat. However, since most reflective clothing does not allow air exchange through the garment, the reduction of radiant heat must more than offset the corresponding loss in evaporative cooling. For this reason, reflective clothing should be worn as loosely as possible. In situations where radiant heat is high, auxiliary cooling systems can be used under the reflective clothing.


1. Commercially available ice vests, though heavy, may accommodate as many as 72 ice packets, which are usually filled with water. Carbon dioxide (dry ice) can also be used as a coolant. The cooling offered by ice packets lasts only 2 to 4 hours at moderate to heavy heat loads, and frequent replacement is necessary. However, ice vests do not encumber the worker and thus permit maximum mobility. Cooling with ice is also relatively inexpensive.

1. Commercially available ice vests, though heavy, may accommodate as many as 72 ice packets, which are usually filled with water. Carbon dioxide (dry ice) can also be used as a coolant. The cooling offered by ice packets lasts only 2 to 4 hours at moderate to heavy heat loads, and frequent replacement is necessary. However, ice vests do not encumber the worker and thus permit maximum mobility. Cooling with ice is also relatively inexpensive.

2. Wetted clothing is another simple and inexpensive personal cooling technique. It is effective when reflective or other impermeable protective clothing is worn. The clothing may be wetted terry cloth coveralls or wetted two-piece, whole-body cotton suits. This approach to auxiliary cooling can be quite effective under conditions of high temperature and low humidity, where evaporation from the wetted garment is not restricted.

3. Water-cooled garments range from a hood, which cools only the head, to vests and "long johns," which offer partial or complete body cooling. Use of this equipment requires a battery-driven circulating pump, liquid-ice coolant, and a container.
Although this system has the advantage of allowing wearer mobility, the weight of the components limits the amount of ice that can be carried and thus reduces the effective use time. The heat transfer rate in liquid cooling systems may limit their use to low-activity jobs; even in such jobs, their service time is only about 20 minutes per pound of cooling ice. To keep outside heat from melting the ice, an outer insulating jacket should be an integral part of these systems.

4. Circulating air is the most highly effective, as well as the most complicated, personal cooling system. By directing compressed air around the body from a supplied air system, both evaporative and convective cooling are improved. The greatest advantage occurs when circulating air is used with impermeable garments or double cotton overalls.
One type, used when respiratory protection is also necessary, forces exhaust air from a supplied-air hood ("bubble hood") around the neck and down inside an impermeable suit. The air then escapes through openings in the suit. Air can also be supplied directly to the suit without using a hood in three ways:
◦ by a single inlet;
◦ by a distribution tree; or
◦ by a perforated vest.

In addition, a vortex tube can be used to reduce the temperature of circulating air. The cooled air from this tube can be introduced either under the clothing or into a bubble hood. The use of a vortex tube separates the air stream into a hot and cold stream; these tubes also can be used to supply heat in cold climates. Circulating air, however, is noisy and requires a constant source of compressed air supplied through an attached air hose.

One problem with this system is the limited mobility of workers whose suits are attached to an air hose. Another is that of getting air to the work area itself. These systems should therefore be used in work areas where workers are not required to move around much or to climb. Another concern with these systems is that they can lead to dehydration. The cool, dry air feels comfortable and the worker may not realize that it is important to drink liquids frequently.

C. RESPIRATOR USAGE. The weight of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) increases stress on a worker, and this stress contributes to overall heat stress. Chemical protective clothing such as totally encapsulating chemical protection suits will also add to the heat stress problem.



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