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Preventing Heat Illness in the Summer

Posted on 6/30/2014 by Joel Gregier

OSHA Administrator David Michaels recently renewed his Agency’s commitment to protecting employees from high-heat hazards—which can cause serious physical harm and even death. “This is a common-sense thing,” said Michaels, who urged employers to ensure they provide workers with sufficient water, rest, and shade. Last year, OSHA issued 11 citations for heat-related violations, including $33,000 in fines for a refuse removal company whose employee died working a 10-hour shift on a garbage truck in 99 degree heat. 
 
Now that summer is underway and the heat index has broken 90 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]
 
OSHA realizes the importance of heat protection during warm months. In fact, in 2011, OSHA created the “Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers” to specifically address the hazards posed by extreme or prolonged exposure to heat.
 
What Risks Are Involved With Working in the Heat?
 
When overheating, the human body naturally tries to cool itself through sweating. In extreme heat, however, the body can no longer regulate itself properly if no preventative measures are taken.
 
Common illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is particularly dangerous in that it can lead to death if not immediately treated.
 
How Can You Prevent Heat Illnesses?
 
Thousands of workers are affected by heat illnesses every year. The sad fact is that nearly all of these incidents are preventable.
 
Among other things, the following methods can help prevent heat illness:

Drinking water is one way to avoid 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, can possibly 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.
  • Possibly provide personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers are not required to supply “ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen.” [29 CFR 1910.132(h)] However, providing these or other types of PPE can help employees during warm weather.
 
More information about OSHA’s “Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers” can be found on OSHA’s website.
 
24/7 Online OSHA Training at Lion.com
 
For convenient training that covers many OSHA standards, Lion Technology offers 24/7 online courses at www.Lion.com/OSHA-Training. Lion.com online courses save workers’ progress throughout, so they can start and stop as needed to fit their work schedules. IT support for online training is available 7 days a week. 
 

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