How to Beat the Heat if You Work Outdoors

A man wipes away perspiration while working on a construction site in St. Paul, Minn.

A man wipes away perspiration while working on a construction site in St. Paul, Minn.  (© Leah Millis/ Star Tribune 2011)

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun, for the second consecutive year, a national outreach program to educate outdoor laborers and their employers about the hazards of working under the hot sun.

"For outdoor workers, 'water, rest and shade' are three words that can make the difference between life and death," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said. "If employers take reasonable precautions, and look out for their workers, we can beat the heat."

According to the Labor Department, thousands of workers across the country suffer from serious heat-related illnesses each year and these illnesses can even lead to death if not swiftly and properly handled. Heat exhaustion can become heat stroke which has killed more than 30 laborers per year on average in the U.S. since 2003.

How to Stay Hydrated

  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Take frequent breaks 
  • When you can, stay out of the heat and sun.

Rigorous activity in high temperatures can lead to symptoms such as elevated body temperatures, heat rash, heat cramps and exhaustion. Knowing these symptoms, says Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, is the first step to treating heat exhaustion before it worsens. Those who are most susceptible according to Dr. Michaels: "Agriculture workers; building, road and other construction workers; utility workers; baggage handlers; roofers; landscapers; and others who work outside are all at risk."

Treatment of the symptoms includes staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and taking frequent breaks somewhere cool, out of the heat and sun. The three words the campaign wants workers and their employers to remember are "Water. Rest. Shade."

More On This...

The information provided in the Department of Labor campaign is especially important for the Latino community to take to heart and help proliferate. According to the Department of Labor, 2011 statistics show that "Latinos account for almost one in every four workers in the construction industry" and about 75 percent of participants in their National Farmworker Jobs Program are Latino; two professions with a high incidence of heat-related injury.

So how do you get the word out? How do you reach your target audience? Well, I have to give praise and recognition to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on this one. As we know, Latinos were early and eager adopters of the smartphone and by creating an application that allows workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work sites, OSHA has provided a tool that has a much higher chance of being utilized. The free app displays a risk level based on heat index, and gives reminders about protective measures that can be taken. The app, simply called Heat Safety Tool", is available for download for Android-based platforms and the iPhone, in either English or Spanish.

Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of


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