In summer, the heat is on for farmers in more ways than one. Your to-do list is seemingly endless, and the temps and humidity can take their toll. While you and your employees work, your internal temperature rises, and the hot weather offers no reprieve, creating rough conditions. Try these tips to ward off heat-related illness and keep your team safe, all summer long. You can also check out the video on heat safety from Utah Farm Bureau's A.J. Ferguson.

Understanding OSHA Heat Regulations

While there isn’t any one temperature that has been deemed unsafe, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that "is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees," according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). There are various factors to consider when evaluating heat stress standards for outdoor workers, including:

  • Environmental conditions (such as air temperature, humidity, sunlight, and air speed)
  • Presence of heat sources (e.g., hot tar ovens or furnaces) in the work area
  • Level of physical activity, i.e., the workload leading to body heat production
  • Use of clothing or protective gear that can reduce the body’s ability to lose excess heat
  • Varying individual risk factors 

To determine when it's too hot to work outside, farm owners should consider both the environmental heat and the metabolic heat of the worker, as well as whether the person has already developed a heat tolerance.

How to Stay Safe While Working Outside in Hot Weather

Heat-related illnesses can be prevented with the proper precautions in place. The following steps can help keep farm workers healthy in the heat:

Build Heat Tolerance

Almost half of all heat-related deaths occur on a worker’s very first day on the job, according to OSHA, and over 70% of heat-related deaths occur during a worker’s first week. This is because workers who are new to working in warm environments may not be acclimatized to heat. Their bodies need time to adapt to working in hot conditions. To protect new workers from heat hazards, schedule shorter shifts in the heat, separated by breaks, and monitor new workers closely for any symptoms of heat-related illness.

Dress the Part

Protective clothing is one of the best ways to stay cool while working in the heat. Shield yourself from the sun by covering up with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Although you might be tempted to dress minimally to keep cool, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants tucked into boots will help prevent ticks, other bugs and poisonous vegetation from wreaking havoc. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting and breathable clothing like cotton or linen, OSHA recommends. A special body-cooling vest might also be a great investment if you live in a steamy climate.

Drink Up

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends drinking 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during moderate activity. If you’re working outside in the heat, you’ll want to stay ahead of those numbers to avoid dehydration. Your urine is a good indicator as to whether you need to be drinking more water. Ideally you want your urine to look clear. You might swear by your morning cup of joe to get you going, but avoid drinking caffeine all day or adding sugary or alcoholic beverages to the mix. All of these items can dehydrate you.

Keep Your Cool

Find a shady spot where you and your team can take frequent breaks during hot weather. That could be the air-conditioned cab of your truck or even an outbuilding. Eat regular meals and include a lightly salted snack or two throughout the day for energy and balancing electrolytes. If possible, schedule demanding tasks for early morning or evening when it’s cooler.

Mind Your Meds

Your body temperature might have difficulty cooling down or it may heat up more quickly if you take certain medications or have certain medical conditions. Talk to your physician before working in the heat this summer to find out if you’re at an increased risk for heat-related illness and need to take additional precautions.  

Know the Symptoms

Heat-related illness can sneak up quickly. Keep an eye out for the warning signs and act fast in the event of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps. 

  • Heat stroke happens when the body can no longer control its temperature and is unable to cool down. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and you should call 911 immediately.
  • Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to dehydration. If you are experiencing signs of heat exhaustion, ask a fellow worker or family member for assistance; you shouldn’t be left alone, and you may need medical treatment.
  • Heat cramps occur when your body sweats out too much salt and can also be a sign of heat exhaustion. Drink a sports drink or try water with a salty snack. Seek medical attention if you’re on a low-sodium diet, have heart issues or if your cramps don’t go away after an hour.

Protecting You and Your Employees

You do your best to keep your business or farm a safe place, but accidents can happen in any workplace. Your Farm Bureau agent can help ensure you have the workers’ compensation coverage you need.