It’s Summer. Hot, Humid, Dangerous, and a Security Risk

Michael Nossaman

Working outdoors in heat and humidity greatly increases the risk of heat-related illness and death.

When your security officer or agent goes down from heat, the negative effect doubles: the security officer’s health is in jeopardy and, as a result, the protective security he or she provides is in jeopardy.  From May to September, if the security work is outdoors and the temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, a comprehensive risk and threat assessment must include the Sun.

How Humans Respond to Heat
Humans cool themselves naturally by sweating. When humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate quickly enough to cool us, and we feel hotter.  When humidity is low, sweat evaporates very quickly, and that can lead to severe dehydration.

As the temperature rises, our natural ability to stay cool goes down and, if left unabated, we can get sick and even die.

In fact, extreme heat causes more deaths than any other weather-related hazard. Each year, in the U.S alone, more than 65,000 people need medical treatment for extreme heat exposure.

From least to worst, heat-related illnesses are heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

A Brief Primer on heat. “It Feels Like…”
Degrees of temperature are the measure of heat, but temperature is only half of the heat risk equation. To calculate the actual effect of heat, you must include humidity-the amount of moisture in the air.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) devised an algorithm that combines air temperature and relative humidity to produce a single value, expressed in degrees Fahrenheit, of how hot the weather actually feels. Known as the Heat Index, it is more indicative of heat-related risk than just air temperature.

A note of warning, the Heat Index was devised from measurements taken in the shade with light wind. Exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition, some workers, depending on exertion level and the heat index, are at risk when the temperature reaches 75 degrees.

Heat Hazard Risk Factors
Two heat hazard factors guide prevention and response: the type of work and risk conditions.

In general, security works is comparatively light duty, but take into account exceptions such as strenuous training and duty.

Risk conditions include physical fitness, age and gender, illness, medications, time on the job in the heat, alcohol use, and of course, temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight. In addition, personal attire such as a dark suit or uniform, and protective duty equipment, can increase risk.  Also, be watchful of highly motivated individuals who push themselves too hard or will not reveal symptoms and illness.

Four Good Reasons to Develop a Heat Hazard Prevention and Response Program
First, people are our most important asset. There really is no other explanation needed.

Second, it’s mission critical. To borrow from the U.S. Army rationale for heat illness prevention and response:

Supervisors and security personnel should understand that sun safety and the prevention of heat injuries are vital to sustaining the security mission. Supervisors must continually be aware of the condition of their officers and agents and be especially alert for signs and symptoms of heat and sun illness.  Prevention, early detection, and immediate treatment are the supervisor initiatives through which heat and sun injuries should be managed at the security site.

Third, it ups the value of security. Security personnel trained in heat illness prevention and recognition can serve as sentinels to protect non-security workers and visitors at the site who may be at risk or show signs of illness.

Fourth, the U.S. Government expects employers to protect their workers. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have specific written standards for abating heat-related hazards. Instead, the agency, and the courts, have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to apply to heat-related hazards because there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.

OSHA does have written standards for personal protective equipment, sanitation, medical services, safety training and education, and recordkeeping that apply to heat hazard.

To help employers abate heat hazard, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offer extensive information and assistance, including a Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, useful tools, and even on-site evaluations.[1]  Because of all the help available, employers have little defense in the event of an OSHA enforcement action for failure to protect workers from heat hazard.

What an Employer is Expected to Do
Employers with workers exposed to heat hazard are expected to:

    1. Develop, implement, and manage a complete heat illness program.
    2. Monitor temperature and Heat Index at the work site.
    3. Provide workers with water, rest, and shade.
    4. Acclimatize workers by gradually increasing exposure to heat, especially new or returning workers, in order to build a tolerance for working in the heat.
    5. Modify work schedules to reduce workers’ exposure to heat.
    6. Train workers on the signs and symptoms of heat illness, and prevention.
    7. Monitor workers for signs of heat stress.
    8. Plan for emergencies and response.

Implement the plan when the Heat Index is at or above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust the preventive measures based on the conditions, workload, and protective clothing.

A Simple and Useful Tool
Worksite weather conditions trigger implementation of your heat hazard plan. OSHA and NIOSH developed an app that alerts supervisors and security personnel when risk exists at a specific security site. The app is free and works on Apple and Android devices.  Implement the plan when the Heat Index is at or above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app features:

  • A visual indicator of the current heat index and associated risk levels specific to your geographic location.
  • Precautionary recommendations specific to heat index-associated risk levels.
  • An interactive, hourly forecast of heat index values, risk level, and recommendations for planning outdoor work activities in advance.
  • Editable location, temperature, and humidity controls for calculation of variable conditions.
  • Signs and symptoms and first aid information for heat-related illness.The 2011 version of the app expired on September 30, 2017. The current version is available for download. [2] The National Weather Service also broadcasts daily Heat Index values.

A checklist from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) gives managers and employees a quick reference guide for recognizing and treating the various types of heat illness.  You can download a PDF of “Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness” from this link.

Stay Cool.

Michael Nossaman is the founder of the Protective Security Council

[1] The OSHA Heat Illness Prevention campaign, launched in 2011, educates employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. Through training sessions, outreach events, informational sessions, publications, social media messaging and media appearances.

“Using the Heat Index: A Guide for Employers” is one of the more valuable OSHA aids to start a heat-related illness and response program. You can download the PDF version from the PSC website. 

The Guide is also available directly from OSHA.

[2] OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app downloads:


Photo: Round thermometer from Price
Photo: Wooden thermometer courtesy of bulldogza at

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About Michael Nossaman 39 Articles
Michael Nossaman is the Protective Security Council founder.

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