With the arrival of summer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched initiatives to alert employers and workers to heat and lightning hazards and the steps to take to prevent injury or illness from them.
The official hashtag of OSHA’s annual heat safety campaign is #WaterRestShade, which is designed to encourage employers to provide their workers with drinking water, ample breaks, and a shaded area while working outdoors.
In a May 26 webinar, OSHA identified four vulnerable populations ‒ the elderly, athletes, emergency responders, and outdoor workers ‒ as being at special risk from extreme heat. In addition, the agency identified time on the job as a risk factor, since the most recent heat-related deaths OSHA investigated involved workers on the job for three days or less. The finding highlights the need for employers to ensure new workers become heat-acclimated before starting or returning to work, the agency stated. In 2014, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job, according to the agency.
OSHA has provided a host of heat safety tips, which can be found in blog and Twitter posts. An updated webpage also includes illustrations of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, an animated video, training resources, and links to an updated heat safety phone app. OSHA partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to raise awareness on the dangers of working in the heat through NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation campaign.
NOAA is also a partner with OSHA in a joint fact sheet on lightning. It urges supervisors and employees working outdoors to consider lightning to be an occupational hazard and to take lightning safety seriously. More than 300 people are struck by lightning every year in the U.S. and, on average, over the past 30 years, about 50 people have died annually. Many others have suffered permanent disabilities.
According to the fact sheet, lightning is unpredictable. It can strike outside the heaviest rainfall areas or even up to 10 miles from any rainfall. When the threat arises, the most important thing to do is move quickly to a safe place and remain there for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder. “When thunder roars, go indoors,” the agencies advise, as nowhere outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area.
Employers are advised to monitor weather reports, such as at weather.gov, before scheduling outdoor work and throughout the workday. Darkening clouds and increasing wind speeds can indicate thunderstorms are developing. Workers should know in advance where to seek shelter. NOAA recommends seeking fully enclosed buildings with electrical wiring and plumbing, which can serve as grounds for lightning charges. Additional advice includes avoiding the use of corded phones, as they conduct electricity. If caught outdoors, seek safety inside a hard-topped metal vehicle. No place outdoors is safe during a thunderstorm, but workers can reduce the risk of harm by avoiding isolated tall structures or objects, water, open spaces, and metal objects, the agencies said.
OSHA advises employers to include a written lightning safety protocol in their Emergency Action Plans (EAPs). Written EAPs, as outlined in 29 CFR 1910.38 or 29 CFR 1926.35, are required by certain OSHA standards, and are a best practice even when not required. OSHA said it will use its general duty clause as a basis for enforcement, but also reminded employers that during storms or high winds, OSHA prohibits work on or from scaffolds under 29 CFR 1926.451(f)(12); use of crane hoists, 29 CFR 1926.1431(k)(8); and work on top of walls, 29 CFR 1926.854(c). During these weather conditions, crane hoists and scaffold work may continue only if a qualified person determines it is safe. In addition, for scaffold work, personal fall protection or wind screens must be provided.