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Heat Stress on Construction Sites [July 2024 Guide]

Written By:
Tor Hoerman
Tor Hoerman

Attorney Tor Hoerman, admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association since 1995 and The Missouri Bar since 2009, specializes nationally in mass tort litigations. Locally, Tor specializes in auto accidents and a wide variety of personal injury incidents occuring in Illinois and Missouri.

This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by the team of writers and attorneys at TorHoerman Law and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney. If you would like to learn more about our owner and experienced injury lawyer, Tor Hoerman, you can do so here.

TorHoerman Law does everything possible to make sure the information in this article is up to date and accurate. If you need specific legal advice about your case, contact us. This article should not be taken as advice from an attorney.

Heat Stress on Construction Sites: An Overview

On this page, we’ll discuss the topic of heat stress on construction sites, how heat-related illnesses like heat stroke and heat exhaustion occur on work sites, how a personal injury lawyer can help seek compensation for long-term injuries related to heat stress, and much more.

Have You Suffered From a Heat-Related Illness on the Job Site?

With the rising temperatures as summer approaches, laborers working outdoors where the temperature is constantly above 90 degrees Fahrenheit face a significant risk of heat illness.

Heat-related injuries are prevalent on construction sites due to the nature of the work, which often involves strenuous physical activity and exposure to high temperatures for extended periods.

Heat Stress on Construction Sites

The combination of intense physical labor and environmental factors increases the risk of workers suffering from heat stress.

Construction company employers should establish safeguards and protocols to prevent and address potential heat stress incidents.

Without an efficient prevention program, they could face liability for their employees’ heat-related injuries.

If you or a loved one works in an occupation where heat stress is a concern and have suffered from a heat-related illness, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Our experienced personal injury lawyers at TorHoerman Law can help you seek justice and compensation for your injuries.

Contact us now to book a free consultation.

You can also use our chatbot for a quick, free, and non-obligatory case evaluation.

Table of Contents

Understanding Heat Stress

Heat stress occurs when our body’s ability to equalize and maintain a normal temperature can’t keep up with the excessive external heat, especially when combined with high humidity.

When exposed to high temperatures, the body tries to cool itself through sweating and increasing blood flow to the skin.

Several factors can impede this cooling process including:

  • Dehydration: The body cannot produce enough sweat to cool down without sufficient fluid intake.
  • Prolonged Exposure: Continuous exposure to high temperatures, especially without breaks, overwhelms the body’s cooling mechanisms.
  • Inadequate Acclimatization: The body needs time to adapt to hot environments. Sudden exposure to high temperatures without gradual acclimatization increases the risk of heat stress.
  • Physical Exertion: Exercise or physical labor increases the body’s core temperature, adding to the heat burden.
  • Clothing: Wearing heavy or non-breathable clothing traps heat and sweat, preventing effective cooling.

When our body’s natural temperature regulation is overwhelmed, it leads to heat stress.

Types of heat stress include:

  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced fluid replacement. It typically occurs in individuals exposed to high temperatures for extended periods, often in combination with physical exertion.
  • Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat stress and constitutes a medical emergency. This exertional heat illness occurs when the body can’t compensate for the internal and external rising temperature, typically above a heat index of 103°F, which combines external humidity and temperature.

Understanding and recognizing the signs of heat stress and its forms and taking appropriate preventive measures are crucial for protecting individuals working in hot environments.

Types of Heat-Related Injuries

There are numerous types of injuries a high-temperature work environment can cause, all of which are disruptive and potentially debilitating.

Types of heat-related injuries include:

  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke
  • Other heat related illnesses

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a serious condition caused by the body’s inability to cope with excessive heat and maintain an ideal temperature.

A worker may often develop heat exhaustion symptoms after prolonged exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity and physical exertion.

This condition is a precursor to heat stroke, making it critical to recognize and intervene immediately to prevent progression to the more severe heat stroke.

The most common symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Profuse sweating.
  • Heat cramps.
  • Feeling unusually tired, weak, or lethargic.
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Feelings of nausea and, in some cases, vomiting.
  • Increased heart rate and breathing rate.

Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke, and timely intervention is critical to prevent progression to a life-threatening condition.

If you see someone exhibiting these symptoms, here’s what you can do to help:

  • Find a shaded or air-conditioned area to reduce exposure to heat.
  • Drink cool water or electrolyte-rich sports drinks to rehydrate and replenish lost electrolytes.
  • Stop all physical activities and rest to reduce the body’s heat production.
  • Apply cool, wet cloths to the skin, take a cool shower or bath, or use fans to increase heat dissipation.
  • Loosen or remove excess clothing.

If symptoms don’t improve with these solutions, or if the person exhibits signs of heat stroke (such as confusion, loss of consciousness, or high body temperature), seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

Heat Stroke

Of all the heat-related illnesses, heat stroke has the highest fatality risk.

This exertional heat illness occurs when the body’s natural temperature regulation mechanism can’t cope with the extreme heat brought by the weather and increasing body temperature.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate intervention to prevent severe complications and death.

Some of the most common symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • The hallmark symptom of heat stroke is a significantly elevated body temperature, often exceeding 104°F (40°C).
  • Confusion, agitation, irritability, slurred speech, delirium, or even coma can occur.
  • Increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
  • The skin feels dry and hot to the touch.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea may occur.
  • In severe cases, seizures may occur due to the impact of hyperthermia on the brain.

Recognizing and treating heat stroke promptly is crucial to prevent life-threatening complications or death.

If someone in your workplace is having a heat stroke, do these steps immediately:

  • Call 911
  • Move the person to a shaded or air-conditioned area to lower the body temperature.
  • Use any means available to lower body temperature quickly, such as a cool water bath, ice packs, and fans to promote air circulation.
  • Offer cool water or sports drinks if the person is alert and can drink.
  • Continuously monitor the person’s temperature and vital signs until emergency medical personnel arrive.

Heat stroke is life-threatening, so you shouldn’t waste time calling emergency services and informing managers.

Without proper action, this condition could lead to serious complications, including organ failure and death, if not treated promptly and effectively.

Prevention through hydration, breathable clothing, and avoiding excessive heat exposure is vital to minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Other Heat-Related Illnesses

There are several other heat-related illnesses.

Other heat-related illnesses include:

  • Heat Cramps: Painful muscle cramps or spasms that typically occur during or after intense exercise or physical labor in hot conditions.
  • Heat Syncope: Fainting or lightheadedness that occurs due to decreased blood flow to the brain due to dehydration and pooling of blood in the extremities.
  • Heat Edema: Swelling in the hands, ankles, and feet due to prolonged exposure to heat.
  • Heat Rash (Prickly Heat): Red clusters of small blisters or bumps on the skin, often in areas where sweat accumulates (such as the neck, chest, groin, or elbow creases).
  • Heat Tetany: Hyperventilation and muscle spasms caused by heat-induced respiratory alkalosis (an imbalance in the body’s pH).
  • Heat-Related Hyponatremia: Low sodium levels in the blood due to excessive water intake without adequate electrolyte replacement during prolonged exercise in hot conditions.

Risk Factors for Developing Exertional Heat Illnesses

Due to the nature of their work and environmental conditions, construction workers and laborers face significant risk factors related to heat stress.

If not properly managed, these factors can collectively increase the likelihood of heat-related illnesses.

Some of the known risk factors for these occupations include:

  • Physical demands of the job
  • High temperatures and humidity
  • Direct sun exposure
  • Lack of acclimation
  • Insufficient hydration

Physical Demands of the Job

Construction and labor-intensive jobs involve physical exertion (i.e., lifting heavy materials, digging, climbing, and operating machinery).

Physical activity generates internal body heat, raising the body’s core temperature.

Combined with external heat, this can lead to rapid overheating.

High Temperatures and Humidity

Outdoor work environments often expose workers to high ambient temperatures, especially during summer.

High temperatures increase the body’s heat load, making it harder to dissipate heat through sweating, particularly when humidity is also high and sweat evaporation is reduced.

Direct Sun Exposure

Many construction tasks require workers to be exposed directly to sunlight for extended periods.

Sun exposure adds to the heat stress by increasing radiant heat absorption and skin temperature, contributing to overall heat gain.

Lack of Acclimatization

Workers who are not accustomed to working in hot environments or have recently returned to work after a break are at higher risk.

Acclimatization allows the body to adapt gradually to heat stress, improving tolerance to high temperatures and reducing the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Insufficient Hydration

Inadequate fluid intake during work shifts or reliance on caffeinated or sugary beverages instead of water can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to regulate temperature through sweating and can increase the risk of heat cramps, exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Who Are the Vulnerable Workers?

Certain occupations and workers are at high risk for developing heat-related illnesses due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures.

These vulnerable groups often work in environments where managing heat stress and related health issues is a significant concern.

Examples of vulnerable workers include:

  • Roofers
  • Landscapers and groundskeepers
  • Farm workers
  • Road construction workers
  • Utility workers
  • Firefighters
  • Miners
  • Factory workers in hot environments
  • Athletes and sports participants
  • New or temporary workers who have not yet acclimatized
  • Individuals with pre-existing conditions
  • Older workers

These occupations and groups are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses due to prolonged exposure to hot environments, physical exertion, and potential challenges in maintaining adequate hydration and cooling.

Preventative Measures To Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses at Work

The safety and wellness of a worker in the field is the employer’s responsibility.

Employers should establish measures to mitigate and prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke in their workers.

Some of the preventative measures employers can apply on their job sites include:

  • Hydration
  • Rest breaks
  • Acclimatization
  • Training


One of the most critical strategies for preventing heat-related injuries on construction sites is ensuring proper hydration among workers.

Workers should be encouraged to drink water or a sports drink frequently, aiming for about one cup (8 ounces) every 15-20 minutes, even if they do not feel thirsty.

This simple action helps maintain hydration levels and prevents dehydration, which is a predominant risk in hot conditions.

Rest Breaks

Regular rest break intervals are essential for workers to cool down and recover.

Workers should take breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas to escape direct sun exposure and reduce their body temperature.

Employers and managers should schedule regular breaks at appropriate intervals to prevent fatigue and overheating, especially during heat waves.


Gradual acclimatization is crucial, especially for new workers or those returning after an absence.

To allow their bodies to acclimatize to the heat, new workers or those returning after time away should have their workloads gradually increased over several days.

Workers should be given more frequent breaks to prevent overheating and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.


Proper training is vital to ensure workers can identify and respond to symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

Workers should receive comprehensive training on recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Training should also include instruction on appropriate first aid responses, including how to cool down affected individuals and when to seek medical assistance.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers have a fundamental duty to provide their employees with a safe working environment, which includes effectively addressing heat-related risks.

Employer responsibilities include:

  • A Reasonably Safe Working Environment: Employers are legally obligated to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious harm or death. Heat stress and related illnesses fall under these hazards.
  • Schedule Adjustment: Whenever possible, employers should schedule strenuous tasks for cooler times of the day, such as early mornings or late evenings. This adjustment reduces the risk of heat-related illnesses since temperatures tend to be lower during these periods.
  • Providing Rest and Meal Breaks in Cool Areas: Employers must provide adequate rest breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. These breaks allow workers to cool down and hydrate, reducing the likelihood of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Ensuring Access to Water: Cool drinking water must be readily available to all workers throughout their shifts. Employers should encourage frequent hydration and ensure water sources are easily accessible on the job site.
  • Policy Development: Employers must develop and implement a heat illness prevention program tailored to the workplace’s risks. This program should outline procedures for monitoring, scheduling, breaks, hydration, and emergency response.

Failure to comply with these obligations can result in serious consequences for employers and employees.

Beyond legal liabilities and potential fines, non-compliance can lead to worker injuries, illnesses, decreased productivity, and reputational damage to the organization.

TorHoerman Law: Protect Yourself From Unfair Labor Practices

Humid weather and high temperatures can make work physically demanding for anyone.

Some employers may choose to cut corners and fail to take the necessary precautions to mitigate heat-related risks in their workplaces.

If you or a loved one has suffered a heat-related illness due to an employer’s negligence, contact Torhoerman Law today.

Our experienced team of attorneys is dedicated to protecting workers’ rights and holding negligent parties accountable.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page for a quick and free case evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is heat stress, and how does it affect construction workers?

    Heat stress occurs when the body cannot maintain a normal temperature due to excessive heat and humidity.

    For construction workers, who often perform strenuous activities in hot environments, this can lead to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

    Symptoms like heavy sweating, muscle cramps, and high body temperature can affect their ability to work safely and efficiently, increasing the risk of serious injuries and health complications.

  • What are the common symptoms of heat-related illnesses on construction sites?

    Common symptoms of heat-related illnesses include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, high body temperature, and symptoms of heat exhaustion such as dizziness, nausea, and weakness.

    More severe symptoms, like confusion, fainting, or unconsciousness, indicate heat stroke and require immediate medical attention.

    Recognizing these symptoms early is vital for protecting workers from the harmful effects of extreme heat.

  • How can employers prevent heat stress among construction workers?

    Construction workers can prevent heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses by staying hydrated, taking regular breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas, and wearing appropriate clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat to protect against direct sunlight.

    Drinking plenty of cool water or sports drinks helps maintain hydration and electrolyte balance, while avoiding strenuous activity during peak heat hours can reduce the risk of heat stress.

  • What should I do if I experience symptoms of heat stress while working?

    If you experience symptoms of heat stress such as dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating, or muscle cramps while working, it’s crucial to act quickly.

    Move to a cooler environment or an air-conditioned room, drink plenty of cool water or a sports drink, and rest.

    Remove unnecessary clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to help lower your body temperature.

    If symptoms persist or worsen, seek immediate medical attention to prevent heat stroke and other severe complications.

  • Can I seek compensation if I suffer from a heat-related illness at work?

    Yes, you can seek compensation if you suffer from a heat-related illness at work.

    Employers have a responsibility to protect workers from extreme heat and other risk factors that contribute to heat stress on construction sites.

    If you develop heat exhaustion or other heat-related illnesses due to unsafe working conditions or inadequate preventive measures, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.

    Consulting with a personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights and pursue a claim.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

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