As Excessive Heat Warnings continue across the country, it’s as important as ever to consider the impact this can have on the safety of your employees. As The New York Times notes, heat has been shown to affect the cost of injuries dramatically. For example, data from a recent study shows that elevated temperatures significantly increase the likelihood of injury on the job. Compared to a day in the 60’s, a 5 to 7 % increase in same-day injury risk is seen when the temperature is between 85 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the temperature tops 100 degrees, the injury risk jumps by 10 – 15%. The researchers also attributed over 20,000 additional injuries per year to elevated temperatures at the workplace, affecting both indoor and outdoor jobs.
Employers have an obligation to keep their employees safe on the job and should be aware of any heat advisories from the National Weather Service. Additionally, employers should know that workers may experience heat stress at temperatures much lower than public heat advisories. OSHA notes that several factors play a role in creating a heat-related occupational risk to workers and should utilize a wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) monitor to measure workplace environmental heat. OSHA has a variety of resources to guide employers, but focusing on three critical steps can significantly mitigate the risk of heat-related illness and injuries at the worksite:
1. Provide cool water for employees to drink.
For short jobs, cool, potable water is sufficient. Workers should be encouraged to drink at least one cup (8 ounces) of water every 20 minutes while working in the heat, not just if they are thirsty.
For those working two hours or more, also provide access to additional fluids that contain electrolytes, such as sports drinks.
Workers should not rely on feeling thirsty to prompt them to drink. They should be reminded to drink regularly to maintain hydration throughout their shift and beyond.
Water or other fluids provided by the employer should not only be cool. Still, they should also be provided in a location that is familiar to the workers, near the work, easy to access, and in sufficient quantity for the duration of the work.
2. Require that workers take rest breaks.
The length and frequency of rest breaks should increase as heat stress rises.
Breaks should last long enough for workers to recover from the heat. How long is long enough? That depends on several factors, including environmental heat (WBGT), the worker's physical activity level, and the individual worker's personal risk factors.
If workers rest in a cooler location, they will be ready to resume work more quickly. Breaks should last longer if workers cannot rest in a cool location.
Some workers might be tempted to skip breaks. In hot conditions, skipping breaks is not safe! Employers should make sure that workers rest during all recommended break periods.
3. Ensure workers have a shady location to recover from the heat.
Outdoors, this might mean a shady area, an air-conditioned vehicle, a nearby building or tent, or an area with fans and misting devices.
Indoors, workers should be allowed to rest in a cool or air-conditioned area away from heat sources such as ovens and furnaces.
Whether the employee is working outside in the heat or inside around heavy machinery throwing off heat, performing physical exertion, or wearing protective clothing, these tips will help keep employees safe during these sweltering days.