Any employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.
OSHA has a great campaign that gets a lot of buzz every summer. The Heat Illness Prevention campaign aims to educate workers and their employers on the dangers of working in the heat. OSHA does as much as possible every year to get the message out through training sessions, outreach programs, publications, social and online media and they encourage everyone to spread the word. To make it as easy as possible, OSHA has condensed the message down into three key words. Water. Rest. Shade.
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.
Any heat illness prevention program should include the following:
- Workers should be provided with adequate water, rest, and shade during the course of the work day.
- New or returning workers should be allowed to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they build up their tolerance to working in the heat.
- Emergency plans for first aid and medical transport should any employee show signs of heat illness.
- Safety meetings to train workers on heat illness prevention.
- Safety meetings to train workers to recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses in themselves and their co-workers.
- Training program for supervisors on preventing and recognizing heat-related illnesses.
- Monitoring program set up during every shift to ensure water, rest and shade are being adequately provided and heat-related illnesses are being prevented and caught early as symptoms are noticed.
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. More than 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, but workers in every field are susceptible. There are a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition.
Some companies are getting creative with their heat illness prevention programs. Here are some awesome examples of how companies across the country and making sure their workers stay safe, but still get the job done, when temperatures soar in the summertime.
- Implement a buddy system within shifts so workers can keep an eye on each other and report heat illness symptoms quickly to the supervisor.
- Set up portable canopies outside with misting hoses woven throughout the frames to cover workers with a fine mist of water to help keep everyone cool.
- Cooling caps and bandanas are provided to all outdoor workers.
- Monitor the OSHA-NIOSH heat safety app and follow the provided recommendations.
- When temperatures are expected to be especially high, provide earlier shift options and additional breaks.
- Keep reinforcing the heat illness prevention message throughout the entire summer by sending text messages and emails to all workers, posting signs and posters around the job site, and giving frequent toolbox talks on the hazards of heat exposure.
- When working inside shops, hangars, and warehouses that get exceedingly hot, provide plenty of large fans, ice machines, and water dispensers and rotate jobs to cooler locations inside and out.
- Train all workers in first aid/CPR with emphasis on recognition of heat stress.
- Share the message about heat illness prevention as often as possible on social media by sharing pictures of your crews to inspire others and make sure to use the hashtag #WaterRestShade.
Workers need to be aware of their specific limitations and remember that sometimes their body may not cool off fast enough. Factors that can increase the chance of heat stress include:
- High temperature and humidity
- Not drinking enough water
- Direct exposure (with no shade) or extreme heat
- No breeze or wind
- Physical activity without breaks
- Use of bulky protective clothing and equipment
To learn more about heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke you can visit the Weeklysafety.com article Recognizing Heat Stress and visit the OSHA page on Occupational Heat Exposure. Both provide great information to help put together a toolbox talk on preventing heat-related illnesses.
All companies that have outdoor workers, or any employees that work in a warm or hot environment for any part of the work day, should be having safety meetings and giving toolbox talks on heat stress. Ideally the message should be reinforced throughout the summer, at least once a month, but more often if possible. Putting together the safety message, toolbox talk or safety meeting topic takes time and the free online resources that provide a safety topic outline to follow aren’t usually good enough. Weeklysafety.com can make this part of your job easier and it’s super simple to get started.