Responding to Heat Illness Emergencies

Oakland—Cal/OSHA is urging employers to ensure they implement their emergency response procedures at outdoor places of employment where workers are at risk of heat illness as temperatures rise throughout the week. Workers and supervisors must know how to respond to signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.  

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat watch for much of the inland parts of the state from Stanislaus through Kern counties and advisories for high heat in San Diego, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties today through Thursday.   

California’s heat illness prevention standard requires employers with outdoor workers to implement effective emergency response procedures that include the following:

  • An effective means for employees to be able to contact a supervisor or emergency medical services when necessary by either voice, observation or electronic device that can ensure reliable communication.
  • How to respond to signs and symptoms of possible heat illness, including first aid measures and how emergency medical services will be provided.
  • How to contact emergency medical services and how to transport employees to a place where they can be reached by an emergency medical provider.
  • An effective way to provide clear and precise directions to emergency responders so that they can reach the worksite when needed.

To prevent heat illness, employers with outdoor workers must also take the following steps:

  • Plan – Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
  • Training – Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
  • Water – Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so.
  • Shade – Provide shade when workers request it or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.

Cal/OSHA urges workers experiencing possible overheating to take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Workers who have existing health problems or medical conditions that reduce tolerance to heat, such as diabetes, need to be extra vigilant. Some high blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also increase a worker’s risk for heat illness.

To prevent heat illness, it is crucial that supervisors are effectively trained on emergency procedures in case a worker gets sick. This helps ensure sick employees receive treatment immediately and that the symptoms do not develop into a serious illness or death.

Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program, the first of its kind in the nation, includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers. Detail on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available online on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the informational website. A Heat Illness Prevention online tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.