Summer is in full swing so it’s time to make sure employees stay safe in the hot weather.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t have a specific standard for addressing heat stress. However, the agency has previously issued citations to employers that have allowed employees to be exposed to a risk of serious physical harm from excessively hot work environments based on the General Duty Clause.
The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Thus, employers should recognize that heat-related injuries may expose them to a risk of OSHA fines and/or workers’ compensation liability.
OSHA recommends many strategies for preventing heat-related injuries, including the following.
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Engineering controls. Businesses may employ one or more methods to reduce the temperature of the work environment, including ventilation, general air conditioning or spot-cooling (such as an air-conditioned booth or hood), fans (provided that the circulated air is cooler than workers’ skin temperature), and heat conduction blocking (such as shielding or insulating sources of heat).
Administrative controls. Employers may develop a heat-stress prevention program including one or more of the following strategies:
- Acclimatization. New employees or employees returning to work after several days’ absence should be gradually acclimated to a hot work environment rather than working a full shift the first day.
- Hydration. Employers should encourage proper hydration by providing cool water and telling workers to drink small amounts frequently (ideally, one cup every 20 minutes in hot conditions).
- Screening and monitoring. Subject to requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers may develop a screening program or encourage workers to self-identify health conditions likely to be aggravated by elevated temperatures. Employees (particularly those in high-risk categories) should be monitored frequently for signs of heat stress, and additional accommodations for those workers should be made.
- Reduce physical demands. Employers may reduce physical demands by providing frequent breaks in a cool area, spreading the work among more workers, providing power tools or devices to limit exertion, shortening shifts, and scheduling high-risk tasks for the cooler part of the day or cooler seasons.
- First-aid requirements. The plan should outline who is responsible for administering first aid and any other procedures that should be followed in the event of a heat-related emergency.
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Employee training. At-risk employees should be trained on the hazards of heat stress, how to recognize symptoms of heat-related disorders and predisposing factors, methods of first aid, employee responsibilities to prevent heat-induced health problems, and methods of self-monitoring (e.g., checking heart rate and temperature and weighing twice a day to monitor water loss).
First-aid workers should be trained to recognize and treat heat stress disorders, and the names of those workers should be made known to all employees. Supervisors also should be trained to detect early signs of heat-related illness and allow employees to take a break from their work if they become uncomfortable.
Personal protective equipment. Many kinds of protective clothing are available to prevent heat stress. Outdoors, employees may use loose-fitting reflective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunscreen. Emploeyrs may want to consider cooling ice vests, wetted clothing, water-cooled garments, or garments designed to circulate an attached source of compressed air.
For more information about how to help your workers beat the heat, check out OSHA’s campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers.