Did you know that heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States? With temperatures rising across much of the country, it is critical that employers recognize the hazards of working in hot environments and take steps to reduce the risk to workers. Consider the following actions that can help protect employees:
- Provide heat stress training. Topics you may wish to address include worker risk, prevention, symptoms (including the importance of workers monitoring themselves and coworkers), treatment, and personal protective equipment.
- Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day. The best way to prevent heat illness is to make the work environment cooler. Monitor weather reports daily and reschedule jobs with high heat exposure to cooler times of the day. When possible, routine maintenance and repair projects should be scheduled for the cooler seasons of the year.
- Provide rest periods with water breaks. Provide workers with plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations in shade or air conditioning that are close to the work area. Avoid alcohol and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
- Monitor workers who are at risk of heat stress. Workers are at an increased risk of heat stress from personal protective equipment, when the outside temperature exceeds 70°F, or while working at high energy levels. Workers should be monitored by establishing a routine to periodically check them for signs and symptoms of overexposure.
- Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments. Allow workers to get used to hot environments by gradually increasing exposure over at least a 5-day work period. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests beginning with 50% of the normal workload and time spent in the hot environment, and then gradually building up to 100% by the fifth day.
Employers should note that under federal law, they have a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. Additionally, certain states (e.g., California) may have their own heat-illness prevention standards.
Resources for Employers and Workers
OSHA’s Heat Illness Website provides information and resources on heat illness for workers and employers, including how to prevent it, what to do in the case of an emergency, educational materials, and a curriculum to be used for workplace training. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a page dedicated to providing information on heat stress (including symptoms and first aid), along with fact sheets and other resources for protecting employees.
Our section on Safety & Wellness includes additional tips for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.