Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21. However, from Alaska to Alabama and locations throughout the US and Canada record high temperatures have already been recorded this year. Now is an excellent time to think about how to keep employees safe from heat stress and help them recognize the hazards of working in extreme temperatures.
Employees at elevated risk include those who work in hot, humid conditions, especially if they are performing heavy work while wearing bulky, personal protective equipment or clothing. Common high-risk industries for heat-related illnesses are construction; transportation and utilities; agriculture; building and grounds maintenance; landscaping services; emergency responders and support activities for oil and gas operations.
OSHA recommends remembering three words: water, rest, and shade. Taking these precautions protects employees from injury or even death.
Tips for working in high temperatures
The sun brings special hazards for those working outdoors. Here are some precautions that may save a life.
- Drink small amounts of water frequently, even if you are not thirsty.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing—cotton is good.
- Take frequent short breaks in the cool shade.
- Eat smaller meals before work activity.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
- Work in the shade when possible.
- Find out from your healthcare provider if your medications and heat don’t mix.
- Know that equipment such as respirators or other protective equipment can increase heat stress.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses and what to do in an emergency.
- Keep an eye on co-workers.
The dangers of working in the heat
The combination of temperature, humidity, and physical labor can lead to fatalities. The two most severe forms of heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion (primarily from dehydration) and heat stroke, which could be fatal. Signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke need immediate attention. Recognizing those warning signs and taking quick action can make a difference in preventing a fatality. Employers and employees should know the potential hazards in their workplaces and how to manage them.
There are several mobile apps designed to help combat the dangers of heat-related illness. OSHA and NIOSH have an app that allows any worker or supervisor with a smartphone to calculate the heat index for their workplace. The app then assigns a risk level based upon this number. Additionally, the app can provide you reminders about protective measures that should be taken to help prevent heat-related illnesses.
Learn more about the OSHA NIOSH Heat Safety Tool and more about heat-related illnesses and how to understand the OSHA heat index.
It is one thing to provide your employees with the tools to keep them safe, but truly creating a safe workplace takes training all employees, including management. Skillsoft provides a complete collection of safety and health topics, including courses such as Heat Stress Recognition and Prevention, Heat Stress Prevention- Cal-OSHA, Heat Illnesses Prevention for Supervisors – Cal/OSHA and First aid: Basic training.
Here’s a short video clip from our Taking Preventive Measures course.
Donna McEntee is the Workplace Safety and Health Solution Manager at Skillsoft.