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OSHA is Watching as Summer Heat Arrives

Posted on May 12, 2024

Summer is around the corner and dangerous heat-based working conditions will be an issue during June, July and August.  Here are some resources on the state and federal levels to help you prepare for summertime.

Reader challenge: Can you identify this article’s references to summer-related song titles or movies? Answers at the end. 

Some like it hot

The summer of 2023 was the hottest summer (June – August) in the history of weather record keeping, with record-breaking heat across Massachusetts averaging 2.5°F higher than normal. The northeast is projected to be anywhere from 3 to 4°F above normal during the summer of 2024. Temperature changes like that are partly the lingering effects of the El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru.

Ongoing OSHA initiative

Before we discuss some of the issues associated with heat,  we want to be sure you are aware of an ongoing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace heat initiative that may impact your company. The initiative began in the summer of 2022 and will remain in effect until at least 2025.

National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) are temporary OSHA initiatives that focus the agency’s resources on high-hazard conditions and industries.

The weather NEP trains OSHA’s focus onto more than 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index is 80° F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists  engage in outreach and technical assistance to help employers keep workers safe on the job.  Keep in mind that OSHA inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP.

Is your industry on the list?

The complete directive is available at this link. Once you open the link, please go to Appendix A (page 28) for a list (by 4-digit NAICS) of the industries targeted by the initiative. Unsure what the NAICS means or how to find your company on the list? Please click on this link here for a discussion of the NAICS.


While easily being the most celebrated and anticipated of the four seasons, summer’s heat can present significant health challenges for your workforce. Some of those challenges include:

  • Determining how hot is too hot at work.
  • Determining what an employer should do when it gets too hot for employees at work.
  • Determining what resources are available to help employers assist employees dealing with excessive heat.

Hot stuff

Although Massachusetts has a statute addressing cold in the workplace and minimum heat guidance for workplaces in the winter,  there is no law defining too hot in the summer. However, the state’s Department of Labor Standards published guidance last August advising employers of cautionary steps they can take regarding the heat. While the guidance is helpful, many employers are left to their own common sense, listening to weather forecasts and speaking with employees to determine what to do during summer heat waves.

We’re having a heat wave

  • Here are tools and resources below to help you plan for and respond to the potential dangers of excessive heat:  According to the National Weather Service, heat is the number one weather-related killer of people in the United States. Excessive heat caused the deaths of 384 workers from 2012 to 2021, an average of almost 40 workers per year. Most years, more people die from heat-related illness than from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined. The National Weather Service usually predicts heat waves in advance, giving employers an opportunity to prepare. Information from the National Weather Service website ( allows employers and employees to prepare for the impact of sky-high temperatures.

Summer in the City

If a company has a workplace that is open to the weather, such as a loading dock, an outdoor warehouse, a construction site, an outdoor deck or patio for food service, an outdoor exercise area, or an indoor non-air-conditioned site, that company  needs to be alert to heat-related disorders.

Heat disorders generally occur when the body cannot remove heat by sweating. When heat gain exceeds what the body can deal with, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the body’s inner core temperature begins to rise, and heat-related illness may develop. Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness. It happens when the body is unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops, and the body can no longer remove excess heat. Signs include confusion; loss of consciousness; red, hot, dry skin; and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death.   If a person exhibits these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

The following additional steps may save a worker’s life:

  • place worker in a shady, cool area,
  • loosen clothing,
  • remove outer clothing,
  • fan air on worker,
  • place cold packs in armpits,
  • wet worker with cool water,
  • apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available,
  • provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible and
  • stay with the worker until help arrives.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, lightheadedness, and heavy sweating. In response to heat exhaustion, have the worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area, drink plenty of water or other cool beverages, apply cold compresses/ice packs, take the employee to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes and do not have the worker return to work that day.

Heat cramps are caused by losing body salts and fluids during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—used for performing work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours. In response to heat cramps, have the worker rest in a shady, cool area and drink water or other cool beverages. Wait a few hours before allowing the worker to return to strenuous work, and have the worker seek medical attention if the cramps don’t go away.

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate. It is the most common problem in hot work environments. If an employee develops a heat rash, try to have the worker work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible and keep the affected area dry.

Apps can help

OSHA has developed an app to help you determine the impact of heat on your workforce. It can be easily downloaded to an iPhone or Android for quick access. The app contains information and ideas about summer heat. The app’s information is also accessible in Spanish by clicking the en Español link.

The app allows employers to calculate the heat index for their worksites and, based on the heat index, advise workers on the risk level.  Then, with a simple click, employers can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to avoid heat-related illness – reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring others for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

OSHA also has a fact sheet on working outdoors in hot conditions, which employers may find helpful..

Additionally, OSHA is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to incorporate worker-safety precautions when heat alerts are issued nationwide. NOAA  includes worker-safety information on its heat-watch web page. For questions, call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit to learn more about its resources for dealing with the heat.

What can an employer do to reduce the risk of heat danger?

the heat.  Education, planning and properly reacting to the conditions will ensure safety during the hot events of summer.

  • OSHA guidance indicates that almost half of heat-related on-the-job deaths occur during an employee’s first day on the job, and more than 70% occur during the employee’s first week of work. Employers should be vigilant with new employees, as they need time to “acclimatize” to the high heat and may need more frequent rest and water breaks.
  • Workplace schedules – Find ways to allow your employees to slow down. Limit strenuous activities to the coolest time of the day, perhaps first thing in the morning or when the sun is not directly shining on your worksite.  Consider extending or adding a break period to ease the heat risk during certain days. If possible, adjust the work schedule to reduce activities during the day’s hottest hours.
  • Clothing – Dress appropriately for summer. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight and helps a body maintain its normal temperature.
  • Fluids – Encourage employees to drink plenty of water or other fluids even if they are not thirsty – the body needs water to keep cool. Consider providing bottles of water and sports drinks to ensure hydration.
  • Be cool – Allow employees to spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned places. If air conditioning is unavailable, consider using fans to keep air circulating, and encourage employees to work in the shade if possible.
  • Healthy eating – Remind employees that diet matters. The heavier the meal, the more a body works to digest it and the greater the water loss, causing a greater risk of heat-related problems.
  • Teamwork—Make sure your employees watch out for one another. Train them to recognize the symptoms of a co-worker suffering from heat-related illness and seek help from their supervisor, the company safety offices, and human resources or dial 911 if the symptoms are severe.

Summertime and the living can be easy. “Water. Rest. Shade.” can save lives.

If you have other strategies that have worked at your company and would like to share them with other AIM members, please forward the idea to Tom at or Sarah at for inclusion in a future HR Edge issue.

As always, if you have questions about this or other human resources  issues, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the AIM Helpline  at 1-800-470-6277 or email us at


Summertime – written by George and Ira Gershwin, sung by dozens.

Warmth of the sun – Beach Boys

Hot stuff – Donna Summer

Heat wave – Martha and the Vandellas

Summer in the City – Lovin’ Spoonful

Some like it hot – Robert Palmer or an unrelated movie of the same title with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis