Five Ways to Keep Workers Safe from the Heat
This summer broke record temperatures – again. This is dangerous when working outdoors, especially in parts of the country where people aren’t used to the heat. And even as temperatures potentially simmer down in some parts of the country, we should always be mindful of unusual spikes as we work to comprehend the changes brought on by climate change.
That’s why state and federal OSHA leaders have been providing new guidance, especially for companies in the upper northwest parts of the country where employees are unaccustomed to working 8 hours in extreme heat.
In response to a massive heatwave this summer, OSHA agencies in Washington and Oregon issued emergency safety regulations to protect outdoor workers with requirements including access to shaded areas, cool drinking water, and periodic wellness checks.
Employers that provide temporary housing, a common practice in farming or agricultural jobs, must keep rooms at 78 degrees or below. And some farms have changed shifts to nighttime periods to avoid the heat.
Oregon’s OSHA rules, set in July, include many of these requirements and apply when conditions exceed 80 degrees and sustained exposure for any 60-minute period. The state also requires employers to maintain an emergency medical plan if employees work in 90-degree or higher conditions. The plan must cover, for example, what to do if an employee exhibits signs or symptoms of heat illness, and how and when to contact emergency medical services. Over-heated employees must be relieved from duties, offered a means to cool down, and have access to on-site first aid or emergency medical services.
On the federal level, OSHA recommends employers offer shorter shifts for newly hired workers who are unacclimated to extreme heat and gradually increase shift length over the first one or two weeks. The agency also recommends employers rotate job functions among workers to help minimize exertion and heat exposure. Employers are also encouraged to implement a buddy system for new workers in heat stress environments.
Not following these guidelines and other common-sense procedures can be deadly for your employees. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. If your company requires employees to work outdoors, here are five precautions to consider.
- Know the signs of heat stress and watch for the symptoms in workers.
- Factor in plenty of breaks and make it easy for employees to remain hydrated.
- Help employees dress smart with breathable clothing that helps cool and protect their bodies.
- Provide wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses along with plenty of sunscreen – at least SPF 30.
- Train employees on how to protect themselves from the heat – on and off work.
That last point is important to remember. It’s always an employer’s responsibility to provide safe working conditions, and OSHA also requires employers to provide adequate safety training. Training in protecting oneself form hot work environments is no exception. Thousands of labor-intensive companies utilize Intertek Alchemy’s comprehensive library of safety training to keep employees safe, which includes frontline worker training courses for heat stress, hot work, and heat exhaustion.