Heat Is An Often-Overlooked Safety Hazard

From ABC WI Staff & OSHA

Whenever the weather forecast calls for hot weather it’s a good reminder for construction companies to review protocol to mitigate hazards of occupational heat exposure. It is not only important to preserve the health and well-being of your workers, OSHA has been stepping up enforcement for employers and their obligation to protect workers against heat illness or injury.

Increased inspections are part of the National Emphasis Program on heat announced in April 2022. OSHA has issued a general heat hazard alert this summer to reminder employers of their responsibilities in hot working environments and that extreme heat can be deadly. OSHA has the right to conduct a targeted inspection on high-hazard job sites and will have higher expectations for employers when it comes to protecting employees.

What is your company policy on working in heat? It is important that you have a written heat stress prevention policy and procedure in place to train employees about protocol and identify responsibilities. Key elements include heat index planning and supervision and the corresponding actions to take in lower, moderate, high and very high to extreme conditions.

Supervisors and those monitoring and implementing the plan need proper training to:

  • Identify and control heat hazards;
  • Recognize early symptoms of heat stress;
  • Administer first aid for heat-related illnesses; and
  • Activate emergency medical services quickly when needed.

heat stress program policy and procedures template is available to ABC of Wisconsin members (login required).

There are a number of questions you can expect OSHA to ask during heat-related inspections. The prevention steps that OSHA is expecting an employer to take corresponds directly to the questions they would ask during an inspection. These questions could include:

  • Do you have a written heat stress prevention policy and procedure in place?
  • How do you monitor heat index temperature(s) and levels of work exertion?
  • Do you provide time for acclimatization of new and returning workers?
  • Is there a “buddy system” in place on hot days?
  • Are there administrative controls being used to limit heat exposures?
  • Does the employer provide training on heat illness signs, how to report symptoms, first aid treatment, how to contact emergency personnel, prevention, and importance of hydration?
  • Perhaps most importantly, is there access to water, rest including breaks, and shade?

 

OSHA’s annual “Water, Rest, Shade” campaign provides suggestions for employers trying to keep workers from overheating on jobsites. Fact sheets are available in multiple languages. Here are some of the recommendations from OSHA that could keep your workers safe and show OSHA that you are serious about preventing injury from the heat:

heat illness graphic

Water

Proper hydration is important for any workday, but more importantly during hot weather. Water and other fluids provided by the employer should not only be cool but should also be provided in a location that is familiar to employees and near the work. For short jobs, cool potable water is sufficient. For extended periods in the heat, OSHA suggests employers provide electrolyte-containing beverages to prevent muscle cramps. Workers should be reminded to take in fluids regularly to avoid dehydration during work. This may require that supervisors consistently remind workers about fluid intake.

Rest

When the potential for heat injury is high, breaks are important. OSHA suggests employers provide breaks long enough for workers to cool down from the heat. The length will depend on a number of factors, including the heat intensity, how cool the break location is and a worker’s physical activity level and risk factors. While employees may be tempted to skip breaks, this is not safe. OSHA emphasizes all employers should make sure workers take breaks and rest during these break periods. Again, supervisors would need to monitor workers to ensure breaks are taken.

Shade

Taking breaks in the sun will not provide good recovery from the heat. Locations with shade is therefore important for workers. If there is no shade available, OSHA recommends breaks in air conditioning, perhaps in a vehicle, job trailer or nearby building. An awning of some kind could provide relief from the sun. Misting devices can provide good heat recovery as well. Heat is often overlooked as a hazard on the jobsite, especially in northern states like Wisconsin. When hazards are overlooked, danger is imminent. Making sure heat hazard policy and procedures are in place goes a long way toward ensuring every one of our employees makes it home safely each day.
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