Maryland Labor Department calls on employers to promote summer safety and protect employees from heat stress


Prevent Heat Illness In Extreme Temperatures With Water, Rest, Shade

BALTIMORE, MD (July 18, 2013) – Recent forecasts for most of Maryland call for temperatures well over 90 degrees. Extreme heat poses health hazards for people who work outdoors. Indoor employees, especially those who work in bakeries, pizza shops, laundry facilities and kitchens, are also at risk of heat illness. The Department of Labor's (DLLR) Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) unit is advising employers to take appropriate precautions against heat stress and be knowledgeable about the signs of heat illness.

“It’s important that Marylanders are aware of the dangers associated with working in excessive temperatures so that they can recognize the warning signs of heat illness,” said Maryland Labor Secretary Leonard J. Howie. “The best way for workers to prevent heat illness are with water, rest and shade.”

While high temperatures are certainly a key signal to the hazards of heat illness, other factors contribute equally to the body's response to the effects of a hot work area. These include the level of work being performed, radiant heat sources (e.g., boilers, ovens, sun light), humidity, air velocity and clothing. An individual's response to heat is also affected by age, weight, fitness, medical condition and their ability to adjust to the heat.

High humidity levels reduce sweat evaporation and the body's ability to rid itself of excess heat. When the body cannot rid itself of excess heat it will store it, resulting in increased core body temperature and heart rate. Increased sweating dehydrates the body and reduces essential electrolytes (often resulting in severe muscle cramps). Blood pressure tends to fall.

As the body continues to store heat, an individual may begin to lose concentration and the ability to focus on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often lose the desire to drink. Eventually, the body may lose its ability to sweat and the internal core temperature will continue to rise. This can result in heat stroke, an immediate medical emergency that may result in death if not addressed immediately.

The Maryland Department of Labor recommends these actions to prevent heat illness and heat stroke:

  • Drink cool fluids. It is recommended that a worker consume about a cup of cool water (or acceptable fluid replacement drink) every 20 minutes. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Allow and take frequent breaks, preferably in cooler areas.
  • Employers should acclimatize workers to the level of heat in which they will be working. The process may take several weeks of gradual exposure.
  • Encourage workers to follow a healthy lifestyle, with adequate diet and electrolyte balance.

Questions concerning heat stress in the workplace can be referred to the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) program by calling 410-527-4447. Additional Information can be located on the OSHA website.

The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation protects and empowers Marylanders by safeguarding workers, protecting consumers, providing a safety net and cultivating a thriving workforce that can meet the demands of Maryland's dynamic economy. For updates and information, follow DLLR on Twitter (@MD_DLLR), Facebook and visit our website . Get more information on EARN Maryland.