It's that time of year when construction management teams need to remind those working in the heat to stay hydrated. The Madison OSHA Office says it is getting calls and emails from employees complaining about the warmer weather.

For the first time, OSHA Madison has developed a Heat Illness Quiz, which has been edited slightly for this article: 

1. TRUE or FALSE: The National Weather Service heat index indicates that the likelihood of heat disorders with prolonged exposure or strenuous activity begins with a combined outdoor temperature of 80°F and a relative humidity of 40 percent.

2. TRUE or FALSE: Antihistamines can impair the ability to sweat.

3. TRUE or FALSE: Individuals with diabetes are at increased risk of heat illness.

4. TRUE or FALSE: Studies show that coffee is an acceptable drink for those exerting themselves in hot environments.

5. TRUE or FALSE: The month of July had the highest rate of hospitalizations for work-related heat illness in 2015, followed by August and June/September (these months tied for third).

6. TRUE or FALSE: In 2015, workers were hospitalized for work-related heat illnesses in 2015 starting in March and continuing through November.

7. TRUE or FALSE: Wisconsin experienced a work-related heat illness fatality in 2016.

All of these seven statements are true.

The first question is answered by viewing the National Weather Service Chart.

Answers to the next three questions can be found in the NIOSH* document “Criteria for a Recommended Standard, Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments 2016-106,” which is an encyclopedic review of heat in the workplace. If you are responsible for protecting workers from heat illness, this is an excellent resource. Highlights of this document include its Chapter 4: Biologic Effects of Heat, which includes a list of drugs implicated in intolerance to heat (page 39) and a chart of heat-related illness risk factors (page 35).

Answers to questions 5, 6 and 7 are from OSHA’s database of our inspection activity, nationally and here in Wisconsin.

As south central Wisconsin adjusts to the heat, it is important to remember that communication in the workplace is really important. Employees may not feel comfortable complaining to their employers about heat in the workplace, but many of them feel free to contact their local OSHA office. Get ahead of the game and communicate to your employees all that you are doing to address the heat, so OSHA does not have to intervene for them.

In construction, OSHA standard 1926.51 requires that you make water available to employees. OSHA has issued citations under the general duty clause for employers’ not having programs to prevent heat illness in the workplace when it is reasonable to anticipate they might have hazardous exposures to heat. OSHA’s campaign to prevent heat illness recommends WATER, SHADE, and REST, especially for the first few weeks of hotter weather.

OSHA has a great web site dedicated to preventing heat illness in the workplace. There is an English version and a Spanish version. They also have a free app to evaluate heat hazards in the workplace; available for iPhone and Android.  

And the Center for Construction (CPWR) has created a great one page handout ideal for toolbox talks.

If you have any questions, give OSHA a call.

Thanks to OSHA Madison for providing content for this article.