According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers have a responsibility to protect their workers from extreme heat. Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in hot or humid conditions. Heat is the number-one cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 815 heat-related worker deaths and 70,000 heat-related serious injuries between 1992 and 2017. To protect workers, employers should establish a complete heat illness prevention program in addition to observing the heat index.
Under OSHA law, employers must have the appropriate measures in place to protect workers and establish a complete heat illness prevention program that includes these elements:
- Education: Provide training to employees and supervisors on the signs and symptoms of heat illness, as well as the preventive measures that can be taken.
- Hydration: Make sure employees always have access to fluids and encourage frequent breaks for hydration.
- Shade: Provide areas of shade for employees to rest in during breaks or when working in direct sunlight.
- Clothing: Supply appropriate clothing for employees who are working in high-heat environments, such as light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Monitoring: Regularly monitor the heat index to ensure that employees are not exposed to dangerous levels of heat.
- Acclimatization: Allow for a gradual increase in exposure to hot temperatures to ensure that employees can safely adjust to the heat.
- Rest: Make sure that employees have access to rest and recovery periods throughout the day, especially when the heat index is high.
Employers should recognize the warning signs for heat illness:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid heartbeat
Workers should also be aware of factors that increase the risk for heat-related illness, such as high temperature and humidity, direct sun exposure, physical exertion, and medications. The National Weather Service created the heat index to indicate the risk of heat-related illness for workers exposed to hot and humid conditions. The risk increases as the weather gets hotter and more humid and is especially serious when hot weather arrives suddenly early in the season, before workers have had a chance to adapt to warm weather.
The heat index can be categorized into four risk levels, with protective measures for each:
- Lower (caution): Basic heat safety and planning
- Moderate: Implementation of precautions and heightened awareness
- High: Additional precautions to protect workers
- Very High to Extreme: More aggressive protective measures
Learn more about the National Weather Service’s new HeatRisk Prototype for forecasting the heat risk in your region: https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/wrh/heatrisk/
Risk factors that must be taken into consideration even when the heat index is lower include employees working in direct sunlight, performing prolonged or strenuous work, or wearing heavy protective clothing or impermeable suits. Workers at higher risk of heat stress include those who are age 65 or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.
Employees also must be able to recognize the risk factors of heat illness and know what to do if they are experiencing symptoms. ClickSafety offers safety training for heat illness and stress awareness, so you can help keep your employees safe.
MCAA members get a 10-percent discount with the code MCAA23 on all ClickSafety training courses. For more information, visit www.clicksafety.com, email Katie Adams at email@example.com, or call her at 913-239-2692.