On June 26, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the return of its heat illness prevention campaign: “Water. Rest. Shade.” As part of the seventh annual heat illness prevention campaign, OSHA’s website outlines the dangers of working in heat, employers’ responsibilities, and additional resources. These include OSHA’s Occupational Exposure to Heat page and the agency’s publications page, which offers educational articles on heat illness in addition to training materials for employers. The campaign’s website also offers employers a number of videos and graphics that are free to use in publications and social media campaigns.
As in prior years, OSHA recommends that on hot days workers take “frequent breaks in a cool or shady environment, and drink water every 15 minutes.” In addition, citing a recent study that found that most heat-related workplace fatalities occurred during workers’ first week on the job, the agency urged “employers to allow new workers to acclimate and build up resistance to the increased temperatures.”
This year, OSHA is encouraging employers to share their ideas on protecting workers from heat illnesses via email to HeatSafetyTips@dol.gov. The agency also provides links to the OSHA-National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Heat Safety Tool smartphone app (available on iTunes and the Google Play store) and is urging interested parties to share tips and photos on Twitter, using the hashtags: #WaterRestShade and #ProTips.
OSHA’s Water Rest Shade campaign website also includes a link to the National Integrated Heat Health Information System, an Obama administration heat early-warning system that helps users prepare for extreme heat.
OSHA does not have a specific standard for exposure to heat and relies on the General Duty Clause under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to cite employers for heat-related hazards. According to OSHA, courts have interpreted the General Duty Clause to mean that employers are required to provide a workplace free of heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. California has its own heat-illness standard with which employers working in California must comply. California’s heat illness standard contains specific requirements for water, shade, and rest periods.
As the summer heats up, employers may want to consider implementing the following courses of action.
- Water consumption. Employers should consider using bottled water, as opposed to a container of potable water—to make it easier to track how much to bring and how much employees consume.
- Shade access. OSHA seems to favor canvas shades—many of which are easy to assemble and provide plenty of room for employees—or air conditioning such as in a running vehicle.
- Rest periods. While many affected employers implement mandatory rest periods of durations depending on the temperature (with stop work orders when the temperature becomes dangerously high), each employee acclimates to the heat differently. One employee may only need a few minutes of rest every few hours; another may need 10 to 15 minutes every hour. Employers may want to implement a buddy system to encourage employees who work together to watch for and quickly spot the first signs of heat illness in their coworkers.