Safety Q&A: What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

Safety Q&A: What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke?


This year’s temperatures are already breaking records across the country. Yet the dog days of summer are still to come, which means outdoor workers need to be ready for the high heat. This includes knowing the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke and what steps to take when symptoms are displayed.

Humidity is an additional concern for those in the Midwest. High humidity slows sweat evaporation from workers’ skin. This makes the hot temps feel even worse.

Both heat exhaustion and heatstroke can be life-threatening. Delaying medical treatment can result in injury or even death.

Your best bet is to manage how long employees are exposed to heat, keep them hydrated and limit time exposed to direct sunlight.

I also encourage you to educate supervisors and team members on heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Here are the symptoms to watch for and steps to take should they suspect exhaustion or stroke.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Nausea
  • Light-headed
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramping
  • Irritability
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Dizziness
Managing Possible Heat Exhaustion
  • Move to an air-conditioned location
  • Cold compresses or cold shower
  • Remove tight/restrictive/additional layers of clothing including shoes and socks
  • Drink plenty of fluids
Heatstroke Symptoms
  • Headache
  • Confusion, slurred speech
  • No longer sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Red, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Very high body temperature
Managing Possible Heatstroke
  • Call emergency services (911)
  • Move to a cooler location
  • Use cold compresses on the neck, head, armpits and groin
  • Do not give fluids

An additional resource to help keep employees safe can be the use of heat index monitoring software. The CDC has an app in Android and iOS app stores called OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool. It provides information on the heat index. The app also gives precautionary recommendations, visual heat indicators for the current heat index and specific locations, hourly forecasts, risk levels and recommendations for planning outdoor work activities.

Remember, keeping employees hydrated, rested and cool during these hot summer days will help them to stay protected and productive.


By Aaron Paris ASP, Director of Safety, The Miller Group

See Also:

Tips To Reduce Your MOD Rate
Safety Q&A: How Do I Keep Employees Safe in Extreme Cold?
Safety Q&A: How Can Drivers Keep Pedestrians and Cyclists Safe?

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