Millions of workers in the United States are exposed to workplace heat and thousands get sick from it each year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that in some cases, heat illness can be fatal, with 50-to-70 percent of cases occurring within the first few days of working in warm or hot conditions.
In addition, other risk factors include heavy physical activity, lack of time to acclimate to the conditions, and wearing clothes that hold body heat.
But, heat illness is also avoidable. Here are five heat illness prevention steps you can take to protect your employees and still get the job done when temperatures heat up.
Step 1 – Provide plenty of water
For proper hydration, plan for one quart of water per hour for each employee. For a ten-person crew working an eight-hour shift, that’s 20 gallons of water. If you can’t provide the water all at once, make sure you have effective procedures to replenish it throughout the day and encourage your employees to drink it. The water must be fresh, pure, suitably cool, and provided to employees free of charge. It also must be located as close as possible to where employees are working.
Step 2 – A shady respite
Shade should be available to employees upon request and anytime outdoor temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Like water, shade must be as close as possible to where your employees are working and there must be enough shade to comfortably accommodate anyone that may be taking a break or rest period.
If nearby buildings or trees can provide sufficient shade for your workers, encourage them to take advantage of that. If not, pop-up canopies
Providing Shade During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Consider increasing the number of tents or other shade structures at your workplace to allow for proper social distancing.
Employees are entitled to a cool-down rest period of at least five minutes if they feel in danger of overheating. The employee shall be monitored and not ordered back to work until signs and symptoms have abated.
Step 3 – Heat illness prevention training
Training must be provided before the beginning of work any time there is a risk of heat illness to supervisory and non-supervisory employees. The training needs to be specific to the employer’s heat illness plan and procedures. Workers need to know how to manage their heat load and stay hydrated in hot weather. The training should include the signs and symptoms of heat illness, how to identify it in coworkers, the different types of heat illness, environmental factors, and the first aid measures to treat it.
Train your employees on the emergency response procedures to be followed, such as contacting emergency medical services, having effective communication, responding to signs and symptoms, and providing direction to the worksite for emergency responders. Supervisors have additional training requirements.
Step 4 – Acclimating to the conditions
It can take around 14 days for workers to adjust to the heat. Train them on how to acclimate to the hot conditions. This includes reducing workload or shift length, and then gradually increasing the duties as employees get used to the conditions. Remind them to wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing unless they are working near heavy machinery.
Monitor all employees during a heat wave. Closely monitor new staff, those returning from extended leave, and those moving to the area from a cooler climate.
Some industries are required to implement added protections when temperatures reach or exceed 95 degrees. These added protections include increased monitoring of all employees for alertness and heat illness symptoms. Even if your industry isn’t covered by this regulation, you should still use protections.
Step 5 – Have it in writing
Having a heat illness prevention plan is essential for the health of your employees. It’s also required by law, must be in writing in both English and in the language understood by the majority of your employees, and be made available at the worksite. The plan provides for specific procedures for providing sufficient water, providing access to shade, emergency response, and acclimatization.
Water, shade, training, acclimatization, emergency response procedures, and a written plan are the five steps that will help your employees keep their cool and beat the heat.
California’s Heat Illness Regulation
The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.