Acclimatizing Workers Reduces Heat Illness And Increases Productivity

While humans have the capability to adapt to heat under many circumstances, trying to do so too quickly, or after an extended period of extended illness or vacation, can result in heat-related illness or fatality. So it is critical to have a heat acclimatization plan in place to introduce new workers, or reintroduce existing workers, to hot environments in a safe, systematic manner. This is best accomplished with the following steps:

  1. Start gradually: According to the CDC, exposure to heat should follow the rule of 20 - workers should not be exposed to more than 20% of heat exposure on the first day, followed by an increase of no more than 20% on each subsequent day. While this process typically takes 5-7 days, full acclimatization can sometimes require several weeks.
  2. Have a strategy: Plan new and returning workers' daily routines to accommodate the reduction in intensity of work during the adjustment period. Also have a protocol in place to protect all workers during sudden heat spikes.
  3. Make efficient use of cool-down time: Increase productivity and safety by having workers do productive light work in a cool environment to allow the body a break from the heat. The worker can be more productive when returning to work in a less climate controlled environment.
  4. Use a buddy system: When co-workers can look out for one another, the incidence of heat-related illness is greatly decreased. Workers can be alert for signs of heat stress and help one another in the event of an emergency.
  5. Remember water, rest, shade: OSHA recommends allowing new or returning workers more frequent breaks for water, rest and shade during the acclimatization period. This strategy will increase productivity of workers even while they are building their tolerance to the heat.