Heat-related illness is a serious risk for outdoor workers in the summer. Construction workers, landscapers, farmers and farm workers, and others often work during the hottest part of the day, in high heat and humidity, with limited shade or breaks for water or cooling off.
To help such workers avoid heat-related illness (which includes heat exhaustion and, in more serious cases, heat stroke), the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, along with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has released an updated version of the OSHA Heat Safety Tool, a free app for smartphones and other mobile devices. Available in English and Spanish, the app uses the phone’s location to calculate the local heat index—a measurement of how hot it feels based on a combination of temperature and humidity. It’s important to take humidity into account when assessing the risk of heat-related illness because when humidity is high, you don’t cool off as much by sweating.
The app rates the heat index on a scale of low risk, moderate risk, high risk, and extreme risk, using colors from white through yellow and red to indicate the level of risk. At each risk level, app users get information about the proper heat safety precautions, such as how often they should drink water and how many cooling periods they need based on the current conditions. The app also includes links to information about the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Each year, more than 65,000 people in the U.S. require medical treatment for heat-related illness. According to OSHA, 2,630 workers suffered heat exhaustion or heat stroke in 2014; 18 died on the job as a result of extended exposure to high temperatures. Vigilance about heat-related illness has become even more important as overall temperatures continue to rise, which is generally attributed to climate change.
Bottom line: The app is a useful tool for workers—and perhaps more importantly, their employers—to help take the guesswork out of how often to schedule breaks and cooling periods for outdoor workers. With the proper information, workers and supervisors can maintain productivity and lower the risk for serious heat-related illness.