Protect Your Employees from Heat Related Illness
Outside of the workplace, warmer weather may bring a feeling of excitement. After all, it opens a window of opportunities- pools to swim in, outdoor activities to partake in, summer tans to gain, etc. However, an unfortunate reality we face, especially in the workplace, is that with heat comes danger. As we see an increasing number of illnesses and even fatalities in the workplace due to heat stress, it is important that safety professionals do everything that they can to stop these 100% preventable heat-related consequences.
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Furthermore, OSHA requires employers that recognize heat stress and/or heat illness as a potential hazard to create a heat illness prevention program. This blog post provides tips to help you remain compliant and avoid the terrible consequences that can come from working in the heat. Hold tight: this will be one of our longer posts, but that’s because we are dealing with pertinent information. As we mentioned previously, the dire, and possibly even fatal, potential effects of heat stress are absolutely and completely preventable. You simply don’t want to incur a citation, or even worse: a workplace tragedy over something that is completely in your hands.
Recognize the hazard
This may be a no-brainer for some of you. For instance, we’re located in good old, hot Texas. We know that our employees who regularly work outside are prone to heat related illness. You likely do too if you’re located in a similar area. However, the hazard may not be as blatant to those of you located in cooler areas or for those of you that only oversee employees that work indoors. While you may think that this makes your employees exempt from the risk of heat illness, in reality, there are multiple factors that can cause heat illness. Of course, the first most, obvious factor that can contribute to heat illness is air temperature. On top of that, however, there are other variables in the workplace that you as an employer should be aware of that can increase the risk associated with heat. Humidity level, or the amount of moisture that is present in the air, can present a heat risk in temperatures that are even in the lower 70’s. The Heat Index graph below can help you get an idea of what temperatures mixed with what humidity levels that can present a risk.
OSHA offers an app, downloadable via Apple, Android, Google Play, etc. that allows you to determine the UV index in your area and to get advice based on the risk presented by that index.
In addition to humidity, both radiant heat and air velocity can affect risk of and exposure to heat illness. Radiant heat is any sort of heat that can be be transferred from a hot surface to the employee. One of the most obvious sources of radiant heat comes from the sun, but there are other examples of radiant heat sources that reveal a present heat risk even for employees who work indoors. For instance, a workplace with ovens, an oiler room, induction furnaces or a lot of machinery all present an INDOOR heat risk. Air velocity refers to the rate of motion in the air. Again, this can affect both indoor and outdoor areas. Even a relatively cool building can heat up quickly if it lacks the necessary fans or ventilation for a space of its size.
Finally, you must recognize that some of your employees may be more prone to heat-related illness simply because of their own personal characteristics. Acclimatization to heat, age, weight, physical and medical condition can all affect how a person responds to heat.
When determining whether there is a heat risk present within your workplace, it is important to take all of this information into account so that you don’t overlook any potential disasters or citations.
Train your employees
Before your employees and supervisors engage in any activity that makes them susceptible to heat illness, they should be trained on the subject matter. This training should include environmental and personal components that can increase heat risk (as mentioned in the previous section), the different types of heat-related illnesses and their indicating signs, heat prevention measures and heat emergency response procedures. Additionally, supervisors must be trained on how to enforce heat illness prevention measures and how to regulate employees’ work based on the weather. Because most of these aspects are covered in other sections, here we will focus on the different types of heat illness to be aware of and the symptoms that identify them. In order of increasing severity, the following are the various heat illnesses that exist:
- Heat rash
- Signs: A temporary rash-like appearance that appears in hot environments, usually as a result of neglecting to remove sweat from the skin.
- Remedy: This will typically go away once the person affected gets to a space with a cooler temperature.
- Reminder: losing consciousness is considered an injury that must be reported to OSHA!
- Signs: We’ll venture to guess this one will be pretty obvious.
- Remedy: If an employee begins to feel faint, they should move around or lie down as opposed to standing still. Hydrating, cooling and resting, of course, will all help to alleviate the situation and should be done.
- Heat cramps
- Signs: Painful cramps, most typically in legs and arm, that occur as a result of concentrated labor in a hot environment. This can occur during work procedures or after the work is finished.
- Remedy: Employees need to take regular breaks and consume water every 15 to 20 minutes. Restoring electrolytes by drinking Gatorade or a similar drink can help.
- Heat exhaustion
- Excessive sweating
- Pale/flushed face and neck
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Remedy: Employee should immediately stop what they are doing and get to a cooler area with direct ventilation and should not be left alone. The employee should drink water, restore electrolytes and remove any extra clothing. If the signs seem serious, the employee should see a doctor as soon as possible.
- Heat stroke
- Accelerated pulse
- Convulsions or fainting
- Dry, hot, red skin
- Extremely high body temperature
- Little to no sweating
- Remedy: Call 911 immediately! Employees who get heat stroke have a 50% survival rate, and they WILL die if they are not treated properly. While waiting for help, the employee should be taken to a cool area and fanned forcibly. Any extra clothing should be removed and cool water should be applied to the employee’s remaining clothing or their skin. Place ice packs under the employee’s arms and near their groin.
The less severe heat illnesses mentioned above should be taken as forewarnings to more severe heat illness. Ideally, your employees should never reach the point of a severe heat illness, as it should be caught in a less serious stage and remedied appropriately.
Take heat illness prevention measures
The following resources and measures should always be available and readily practiced to decrease the likelihood of a heat related illness.
Water accessibility: Employees should always have access to cool, clean potable drinking water at no cost to them. There should be enough water to afford at least one quart an hour per employee. Do not refill water from non-potable water sources (i.e. sprinklers), as this may not be fit to drink. Employees should be made aware of where these water containers are and encouraged to drink it frequently.
Available shade: If the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, at least one area of shade that is large enough to shelter all employees that may be on rest must be available at all times. The area of shade must be in close proximity to employees’ working areas. Employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks in the shade. If the temperature is below 80 degrees, you should be able to provide employees with a shaded area shortly after requested.
Acclimatization measures: Determine a means of how your company will decrease the amount of labor or time of shift for new employees in order to get them used to working in the heat. Acclimatization should also be implemented for all employees during hotter-weather months.
To learn the minimum standards required by OSHA nationwide, see this OSHA overview. The previous sections have mentioned some of many best practices for heat illness prevention that are up to par with CalOSHA’s Heat Illness Regulations, as amended in 2015.
CalOSHA provides further regulations for specific industries if the weather exceeds 95 degrees that involve the enforcement of regular breaks and company communications (here is the breakdown). Our Employee Monitoring for Safety guide mentions how you can smoothly implement such a system within your employee monitoring program for remote workers.
SoloProtect has been working closely with safety professionals concerned with heat risk, especially those in California that must comply to increasing regulations regarding the issue. We can help employers mitigate heat-related illness in two ways. The SoloProtect device allows employees the opportunity to check in and check out. In heat conditions where you as the employer want to or may be required by state government to enforce breaks in recommended intervals, employees can check-in then check back out utilizing a button and timer on the SoloProtect device that lets employers know that they have taken their break. Should they fail to utilize the check-in feature, an alert can be raised both to the employer indicating that the employee has not taken their break as well as to the employee, reminding them to take a break. This can give you a nice audit trail that documents proof of efforts.
Additionally, in the event that an employee begins to feel symptoms of heat illness, he or she can press a button to open two-way audio with our emergency dispatch center to get help dispatched along with medical instruction from trained professionals while waiting. In the event of incapacitation due to unconsciousness, the device’s movement detection will trigger an automatic 'Incapacitation' alert, once again opening up two-way audio communication with our emergency dispatch center in order to get your employee the heat-related help they need as quickly as possible.
For more information on how SoloProtect can improve workplace safety at your company, visit www.soloprotect.com/us.