Summer Temperatures (and OSHA Inspections) are Heating Up
Summer is here and in full swing and temperatures are hitting highs across the US. It is important to revisit the risks of working in the heat with your employees, whether it is something they do every day or just on occasion. And it’s not just the outside temperatures that are turning up the heat – OSHA has placed a new National Emphasis Program on heat hazards for both indoor and outdoor work environments. Under this new program, OSHA will place priority on on-site inspections for any complaints and hospitalizations related to heat hazards. OSHA has stated that area offices will be monitoring National Weather Service heat warnings/advisories and targeting local at-risk employers on those days.
While heat safety is certainly a priority for construction industries, any organization that has employees who work outside or in non-air-conditioned areas or areas that are not well ventilated, have an elevated risk for heat related injuries. What is the best way to protect your employees from heat related stress? Develop and communicate a heat illness prevention program. According to the experts at Lexology, this should include at least the following:
- Ensure new workers or those returning from a break in employment or vacation are acclimatized, gradually building up to a full workday in the heat. It is best for employees to start working early in the day and let their day continue as the heat rises. It is much harder on the body to start the day in the middle of heat spike of the day.
- Monitor ambient temperature and levels of work exertion at the worksite, categorizing physical exertion levels as low, moderate, and heavy, and adjust workloads and schedules, as necessary.
- Provide access to cool water for hydration and ensure workers are drinking enough fluids.
- Ensure that workers have sufficient water and rest breaks, and that they are utilizing both. Just offering the water onsite is not enough. Supervisors have a responsibility to visibly monitor their crew to ensure that they are resting and hydrating and not succumbing to heat related illness.
- Provide access to shade for rest periods and air conditioning or other cooling systems, if feasible.
- Consider using a buddy system to have workers monitor one another for symptoms of heat illness. This is one of the most critical steps to preventing a serious heat related illness. Often, we don’t recognize a heat related illness in ourselves until it is too late, as often disorientation is a symptom itself.
- Train workers to identify the signs and various stages of heat illness, to know how to report signs and symptoms, to recognize when first aid is needed, and to know when and how to contact emergency personnel.
So, before you have any employees face serious consequences from the heat, know that a little prevention goes a long way. The CDC provides this great chart to help identify heat related illness and what to do about them. We at HR Affiliates are here as well to help you put a program in place.