There are a number of workplace exposures that can result in fatalities. The two most common and most talked about are falls and motor vehicle accidents. But, there is another exposure that millions of workers face that is not talked about as much, Heat Stress.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that between 1992 and 2016, 783 workers in the US died and more than 69,000 workers suffered serious
injuries due to heat exposure at work. Not surprisingly, 90% of these serious incidents occur between June and September.
OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in a hot environment but under the General Duty Clause there is a responsibility to keep your employees safe. Additionally, OSHA has a table of heat indices and they advise that a heat index of less than 91 degrees is low risk, 91 to 103 degrees is moderate risk, 103-115 is high risk and over 115 is extreme.
Fortunately, to make implementing controls a bit easier OSHA and NIOSH have produced an app named the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool. The app provides real-time weather data including heat index, precautions that should be taken, a symptom checker and first aid information for workers suffering heat strain. It is available at the links below;
There are a few basic things employers can do to help prevent serious heat related illnesses;
- Train workers about the conditions that lead to heat stress and how to protect themselves. All workers should know what to do if a coworker becomes ill from the heat, including when it would be appropriate to call a supervisor for help versus calling 911.
- Educate all employees that they should show up for work fully hydrated, to limit alcohol and caffeine consumption in hot weather, and to stay hydrated throughout the workday by drinking plenty of fluids.
- OSHA recommends employers provide at least one pint of water per hour for every worker.
- Water should be in a marked and closed container (e.g., “Drinking Water”)
- There should be no sharing of water between employees
- Encourage workers to wear breathable cotton clothing and if working outdoors, employees should wear protection like sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen.
- Employers should offer regular breaks in a shaded or well-ventilated area.
- Whenever possible, set up shades or screens to keep workers out of direct sunlight. Providing fans and evaporative coolers is also something that can help workers from becoming ill due to heat exposure.
- According to OSHA 50-70% of fatalities occur in the first few days of working outside during high heat. Because workers acclimate to heat over time, workloads should be gradually increased as workers acclimate or as new workers come to the job.