7 Summer Safety Tips for Employees Working in the Heat

workers working safely in summer heat

We’ve seen record heat these past few years in California, and there’s no reason to expect to get a break this coming summer. But employees who are working outdoors — like grape harvesters, vineyard managers, and mechanics — need to pay special attention to their safety. Working all day in the heat can take a serious toll on the body, and heat can lead to illnesses like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. What’s more, heat can increase on-the-job injury risks by making palms slippery from sweat, fogging up safety glasses, or bringing on dizziness.  

Both employees and employers need to prepare to keep their teams safe. Here are seven safety tips for employees working in the heat and ways for your organization to ensure their well-being.


1. Stay hydrated — strategically.

This might seem obvious, but there’s a method to hydrating the right way. OSHA recommends that employees drink about one quart of water per hour — meaning a cup of water every 15–20 minutes. And while you might think there’s no such thing as too much water, OSHA is clear that employees should not drink more than 1.5 quarts of water per hour — overhydration can cause a medical emergency!

If you’re an employer, consider offering water bottles with marked servings on the side so your employees can track their water consumption. You can also provide frequent reminders — and, of course, water breaks — to ensure their hydration.


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2. Bring out the cooling gear.

You might not be able to control the temperatures, but employers can try to keep their employees’ body temperatures down. If you provide uniforms — or even if you don’t! Consider handing out wet neck towels, cooling vests, or cooling neck scarves. You can buy these items in bulk, and they will pay major dividends when it comes to keeping your team safe.


3. Mandate and provide cooling uniforms.

How we dress can significantly impact how we feel. When employees face hot temperatures, they should wear breathable, loose-fitting clothing, and ideally, they should stick to light colors. Consider expanding your uniform code to mandate cool-friendly outfits, and you can really up the game by providing branded clothing to your staff.


4. Make time for rest.

When your team is working in the heat, you simply must allow more time for breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. (The CDC created a calendar for precisely this purpose — we’ll get to that in #7.) Remember, workers often don’t take breaks unless mandated, so the best thing employers can do is make rest times required — and paid. Organizations can invest in tents or portable shelters if their team works in open fields without natural shade.


5. Get outdoor employees acclimated.

You can’t just take an employee used to working in a breezy, 68-degree office and stick them outdoors in the 90s. Instead, management can create a plan for gently acclimatizing employees to the elevated temperatures and gradually increasing their workload and exposure. The 20% rule is a helpful guideline: On the first day, employees in hot outdoor environments should spend at most 20% of their day in the heat. Then, the exposure should increase by a maximum of 20% each following day.


Note: The 20% rule doesn’t apply to warehouses without climate control. Instead, provide employees with plenty of water and encourage them to wear breathable clothing. Whenever possible, provide fans and/or open doors to create a cross breeze. Ceiling fans are also a worthwhile investment, especially if regulations prevent you from opening doors or windows.  


6. Prioritize UV protection.

Your employees should be covered in sunscreen and encouraged to reapply. Those tents or shaded rest areas can double as sunscreen reapplication sites, and nothing’s stopping management from providing bulk sunscreen bottles for the team.


7. Plan work schedules around the heat.

You can also make systematic adjustments around heat protection. The CDC created a work/rest schedule based on air temperature, with adjustments for direct sunlight and humidity. Employers can use this schedule as a guideline to plan resourcing for the season and rely on predicted temperatures from any local weather report.

Remember, heat protection is a significant element of worker safety, and employers must take the risks seriously. But with minimal investment and some pre-planning, employers can keep their teams safe — even in the sweltering sun.


Are you interested in more advice and insight on workplace safety, company culture, and hiring best practices? Star Staffing offers many free resources for employers and HR teams, including free webinars, our monthly California employment and labor report, and our newsletter, HR Caffeine.

If you’re looking for hiring support in California, reach out to us! We offer temp, temp-to-hire, and direct hire services.