Avoiding heat stress at work (toolbox talk)

In the warm season, heat stress is a major health concern for employees in all types of industries, from construction to hospitality. One of the biggest ways to protect your workers from heat-related hazards is to encourage personal safety. Use these talking points for an effective and comprehensive heat stress toolbox talk.

Free template!

Download this free heat illness prevention template to create your site’s safety plan for heat-related health incidents.

Heat stress toolbox talk overview

In this toolbox talk, we’re going to answer three main questions:

  • What exactly is heat stress?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of heat stress?
  • How can you prevent heat stress?

Once you know what to look out for, you can better protect yourself against heat illness.

Heat stress definition

Heat stress is a health issue that happens when the body can’t get rid of excess heat. This causes the heart rate to rise and makes it increasingly difficult for the body to function properly. Heat exhaustion, heat rash, heat stroke, and heat cramps are the primary types of heat stress-related illnesses.

The variables that most often cause heat stress include high temperatures or humidity, improper hydration, and strenuous physical activity. While heat stress occurs most often during the summer months, it just takes one unusually hot day in the spring or fall to put you at risk.

Signs and symptoms

To protect yourself from heat stress, you need to know the symptoms. The earlier you can recognize the signs, the less likely you are to develop serious complications like strokes or seizures. Depending on what type of heat illness you develop, possible side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Muscle spasms
  • Dizziness or lack of mental clarity
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Thirst
  • Red, irritated bumps
  • Excessive sweating

If you begin to feel any of these symptoms, it’s important to let your supervisor know so they can help you cool down and stay safe.

Heat stress prevention strategies

Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to stay safe in the heat. By far the best thing you can do is to come to work prepared for hot weather.

Some ways you can do this are by:

  • Dressing in light, loose layers
  • Packing extra food and water
  • Drinking water throughout your shift
  • Resting in between difficult tasks
  • Wearing hats, sunscreen, and other protective gear

It’s also important to look out for your teammates in the heat. While working, it’s easy to get distracted and miss the signs of heat stress. Help each other out by staggering your breaks (when possible) and keeping a close eye on everyone’s health.