Heat Related Illness Prevention – Be Cool! Literally.

Who knew? The term "be cool" came from William Shakespeare. Folklore tales of how some of the most famous quotes came into being often leave us questioning the validity of each story, but none more than the tale of how "be cool" came to be. It's said that Shakespeare was performing one of his famous long plays for a large audience outdoors, in the heat of the day, when many became ill. Some fainted, others showed signs of a bumpy rash or disorientation and confusion. In some instances, people had slurred speech or became irritable. As the story goes, Shakespeare was forced to stop his performance due to several issues occurring at one time. Keenly aware, Shakespeare noticed one affected person physically improve after drinking water, while two others began fanning that person with a towel. 

He continued to observe the crowd and noted that the large and cramped group had one thing in common: heat. Compounded by the midday hot weather, there was very little wind, almost no space between attendees and no shade from the hot sun. Some eyewitness reports later explained how they heard Shakespeare compare the event to "the movement of a wave in the ocean…notable effects on the crowd were as if to see the heat ebb and flow, section by section, like a...a...heat wave!" Having said and noted this, Shakespeare addressed the crowd to offer advice based on his recent discovery of how cooling down can help by saying, "Be-ith Cool!" 

To be transparent (and truthful), this story is completely fictional and intended to offer an overview of what heat-related illnesses look like, warning signs/symptoms and how to help a person impacted by heat. According to OSHA1, many risks associated with heat-related illness are environmental, but there are other risks. Certain indoor environments can also expose workers to hazardous heat levels wherein the equipment or machinery creates high heat levels, and there is limited ventilation or a room/area cooling process in place. 

In addition, heat-related issues can also be the result of worker-related factors that can increase the risk of a worker suffering from a heat-related illness, including the following:

  • A person's overall health.
  • How they are dressed (or overdressed).
  • Levels of hydration and understanding of what not to drink/eat, i.e., what causes dehydration.
  • Knowing the warning signs of heat-related illness and how to respond.

In short, heat-related illnesses are preventable. OSHA offers excellent resources for employers to develop occupational safety and health prevention guidelines through its Heat Stress Guide. With this in mind, employers should remember that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to comply with hazard-specific safety and health standards and provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards2. Employees should also be part of the prevention strategies by learning about heat-related illnesses, proper emergency response, and prevention techniques. Shakespeare later wrote about his experience and what he learned, "To be or not to be? Depends on the level of heat one is exposed to, or their decision to be cool."


2 https://www.osha.gov/emergency-preparedness/guides/heat-stress