According to OSHA, millions of employees across the country are exposed to heat within their workplaces. Employees can encounter occupational heat exposure in both indoor (e.g., kitchens, boiler rooms, manufacturing plants and warehouses) and outdoor (e.g., construction and landscaping sites, oil or gas wells and farms) work environments. Without the proper precautions in place, occupational heat exposure can cause employees to experience various heat-related illnesses.
OSHA estimates that thousands of employees sustain heat-related illnesses every year—some of which prove fatal. Key factors that contribute to these illnesses include increased air temperatures, elevated humidity levels, prolonged exposure to sunlight or other heat sources, inadequate airflow and tasks involving heavy physical labor.
These illnesses are especially prevalent in the summertime, when temperatures rise and heat waves are likely. To protect employees from heat-related illnesses on the job, employers should do the following:
- Develop an effective heat illness prevention program.
- Educate employees on heat-related illnesses and how to adequately avoid them.
- Offer plenty of cool drinking water within the workplace. Provide employees with regular water breaks in air-conditioned or shaded locations.
- Help employees who are new to working in heat acclimate by gradually elevating their workloads and allotting them more frequent breaks.
- Consider modifying employees’ work schedules to minimize direct exposure to sunlight or other heat sources.
- Have supervisors monitor employees for signs of heat-related illnesses (e.g., headache, dizziness, confusion, fainting, excessive thirst and vomiting).
Instruct supervisors to take these steps if any employees display signs of heat-related illnesses:
- Relocate the employee to a cooler or shaded area.
- Fan the employee and give them water to drink.
- Have the employee apply ice to their body.
- Call 911 immediately if the employee’s condition worsens or they lose consciousness.
For additional workplace safety resources, contact us today.
Information abstracted from Zywave’s “OSHA Safety Cornerstones – Second Quarter 2021” article.