Heat-related workplace incidents resulted in an average 38 fatalities and 2,700 cases involving days away from work from 2011–2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Now that summer is underway and the heat index is nearing 100 degrees in many places, it is more important than ever for employers to protect workers from the dangers of excess heat. While there is no specific OSHA standard regulating high temperatures, companies must protect their employees from heat illnesses. [OSHA Act Sec.5]
Plus, OSHA recently announced a series of enforcement actions to protect workers from heat hazards, including a proposed heat-illness prevention rule. Other planned actions include:
- An enforcement initiative to prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F.
- A National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat inspections—especially in high-risk industries.
- A “Heat Illness Prevention Work Group” within the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH).
How Can You Prevent Heat Illnesses?
Thousands of workers are affected by heat illnesses every year. Common illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is particularly dangerous because it can lead to death if not immediately treated. The sad fact is that nearly all these incidents are preventable.
Here’s just a few methods that can help prevent heat illness:
- Provide workers with water. OSHA has suggested that workers drink water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty. It may be too late to hydrate once the body has used up all its water.
- Provide rest and shade. Bodies need time to cool down throughout the day. Sitting down under a tree or, even better, getting time in an air-conditioned space can make all the difference.
- Allow workers to acclimatize to the heat. Statistics have shown that new workers and those workers who have taken more than a week off are the most susceptible to heat illness. This is because the body needs time to build tolerance to the heat. To help with this, these workers should have a work schedule that allows them time to acclimatize.
- Modify work schedules, if needed. Even the strongest workers can still be taken aback when a heat wave hits. In these cases, maybe a shorter workday or more frequent breaks are needed. In some cases, workers can maybe spend part of the day working indoors.
- Plan for emergencies and train employees on symptoms and prevention. Workers should be able to notice when they or coworkers are having difficulties. Knowing common symptoms, such as flushed faces or light-headedness, may catch a problem before it becomes serious.
- Monitor workers for illnesses. Employers also need to take a proactive role and watch their workers’ actions. Even if an employee is in the midst of something like heat exhaustion, recognizing this hazard early is much better than letting it escalate to heat stroke.
- Include indoor workers when considering heat illness prevention measures. Unlike outdoor workers, indoor workers battle heat-related hazards all year round. This includes workers in industrial kitchens, on manufacturing floors, and in warehouses.
OSHA’s Upcoming Heat Illness Standard
OSHA announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on October 26, 2021
to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat. OSHA is currently analyzing the public comments received to access the next steps. These comments come after the Agency already gathered diverse perspectives and expertise on related topics, such as heat-stress thresholds, heat-acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring.
Protect Your Workers from Heat Hazards
The signs of heat-related illnesses may seem obvious. However, the symptoms can mimic numerous other, much less serious conditions. Don’t leave your team’s safety to chance! Lion’s Heat Illness Prevention – Supervisors
course prepares supervisors to recognize and protect their teams from the effects of heat stress, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion, among other injuries and illness associated with heat. The course is available online, so you can learn at your own pace and earn useful resources you can save, print, and keep.