As we continue steaming into the end of summer, here is part two of our summer safety series. With summer temperatures still affecting many parts of the country, it is important to remember OSHA’s guidance on protecting workers from the dangerous effects of extreme heat.
In 2011, OSHA launched the “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign to educate employers and workers on how to stay safe in extreme heat. OSHA warns that “[e]very year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions.”
Particularly serious among heat-related illnesses is heat stroke, which can result in death. Other heat illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash. Employers should ensure that workers exposed to hot conditions – and those employees’ supervisors – are aware of the symptoms of heat illness, preventive steps, and first aid measures to take if a worker shows signs of a heat-related illness. This information is available on both OSHA’s and the CDC’s websites.
According to OSHA, operations involving high air temperatures and humidity, radiant heat sources, direct contact with hot objects, limited air movement, or direct sun exposure can face heat-related health risks. Additionally, job-specific factors can include strenuous physical activity or the use of bulky, non-breathable clothing and equipment.
OSHA’s recommended steps to protect workers
Because of its longstanding doctrine of the “hierarchy of controls,” OSHA recommends utilizing engineering controls whenever possible, including air conditioning and ventilation, in order to make the whole work environment cooler. In general, OSHA recommends establishing a comprehensive heat illness prevention program that includes the following:
- Designate a person to oversee the heat illness prevention program.
- Identify hazards and risks of heat illness.
- Encourage workers to abide by the “Water. Rest. Shade” mantra.
- Where conditions require, consider allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Consider modifying work schedules to reduce workers’ exposure to excessive heat.
- Provide training in a language and manner that workers will understand.
- Establish a system for monitoring and reporting symptoms of heat illness.
- Develop an emergency plan, and communicate it to supervisors and workers.
For more information on each of the above recommendations, employers should carefully review OSHA’s guidance on protecting workers from the effects of heat, as well as the CDC’s tips for preventing heat-related illness.
If your workforce is exposed to hot conditions regularly, it’s worthwhile to review and audit your safety policies to be sure they are comprehensive and fully protect your workers and your company.