As the Weather Warms Employers Must Be Wary of Heat-Related Hazards Early On
OSHA requires that employers provide a workplace free of known safety hazards – this includes protecting workers from heat-related illnesses. Beginning in 2011, heat safety became a focus of OSHA with its Heat Illness Prevention Campaign which includes tailored training, publications, and outreach programs designed to educate employers on the dangers of working in heat.
When it comes to preventing heat illness, it is important to think ahead. It is common sense that the risk of heat-related illness becomes greater during the late spring and summer months when the weather is hotter and more humid. But situations are particularly serious, like now, when hot weather arrives suddenly early in the season, before workers have had a chance to adapt to warm weather. Thus, employers with outdoor workers should not wait until it gets hot to review their procedures and ensure their training is effective.
An employer with workers who could be exposed to hot environments must establish a heat illness prevention program to satisfy OSHA. Such a program should include:
- Training all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention
- Providing enough fresh water for each employee and encouraging them to drink
- Providing access to shade and encouraging employees to take a cool‐down rest in it – they should not wait until they feel sick to cool-down
- Closely observing all employees and monitoring for signs of illness
- Allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimate to, or build a tolerance for, working in the heat
- When possible, creating engineering controls such as air conditioning and ventilation which is not only a preventative measure, but can be used to assist in emergency situations as well
- Developing and implementing written procedures, specific to the worksite, for heat illness prevention, including plans on how to handle medical emergencies and steps to take if someone shows signs or symptoms of heat illness
- Planning for emergencies and training workers on prevention, including any of the above written procedures
- Documenting any and all training, discussions, and emphasis on heat-related prevention, training, and safety
- Overall, OSHA’s message is “Water. Rest. Shade.” – ingrain this slogan in your workers’ minds during pre-work meetings
Outdoor workers exposed to direct sunlight are at an obvious risk as the temperature increases. This is especially true if they must wear heavy protective equipment. However, indoor workers, such as those in foundries or plants are exposed to radiant heat sources and limited air movement which can be just as dangerous. As such, the above recommendations apply to all work environments.
In the end, although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in hot environments, employers nevertheless have a duty to protect workers from recognized serious hazards in the workplace, including heat-related hazards. Every year, workers become ill while working in extreme heat and humid conditions – with more than 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occurring in the construction injury. OSHA investigates these heat-related incidents and complaints to their fullest. As such, it is important to review your company’s heat-related safety and hazard prevention and heat identification to ensure it complies with OSHA, especially early in the season.