As we approach higher temperatures, it’s important to make sure safety measures are in place to protect workers from excessive heat exposure. Every year, worker illness and fatalities occur due to extreme heat. Whether you work indoors or outdoors, working around high heat from the sun, exhaust, machinery, high humidity, and physically strenuous activities can cause serious illness and even death. When it comes to workplace safety, excessive exposure to heat can hinder safety. Sweaty palms, foggy safety glasses, dizziness and burns can make any work environment dangerous.
Excessive heat exposure can lead to illnesses such as heat stroke, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and cramping. These occur when the temperature outside your body meets or surpasses your body’s core temperature. Sweating is the body’s way of releasing heat. If the humidity around you is high, evaporation cannot occur, and the salt and fluids lost cannot be returned to the body. If your body cannot release heat, it will store it, causing the body’s core temperature to rise. This leads to an increase to your heart rate, decreased concentration and focus, and can even result in fainting and death.
While OSHA does not specify standards for protecting workers in hot environments, employers do have a duty to protect workers from recognized hazards including those that are heat related. OSHA does offer A Guide for Employers that explains how to use the heat index to know when extra precautions are necessary to protect workers.
OSHA recommends employers use the Heat Index to protect workers who may be affected by extreme heat. The heat index is a temperature value that is determined by comparing the actual temperature and the humidity. Together, heat and humidity can cause the body to overheat as a result of sweat being unable to evaporate off the skin.
As with all other workplace hazards, OSHA recommends that employers should:
Your prevention plan for heat-related illness should include supplies such as providing adequate water, rest and other supplies to help moderate body temperatures, preparing supervisors and workers through emergency planning and response, graduated workloads with frequent breaks, adjusting work schedules to allow breaks for heat exposure, training workers to recognize signs and symptoms, and closely monitoring workers in areas where heat may become an issue.
Training workers to be vigilant when heat index levels go up is essential. Workers should be trained on prevention, signs, and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and emergency medical response to heat-related situations. You can find training materials at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/trainingresources.html.
Employers should track high temperatures to be prepared if there is a risk to workers. In doing so, employers can decide which preventative actions should be implemented. OSHA offers a Heat Smartphone App for ready access to heat index levels near your worksite and provides reminders on how to prevent any potential issues.
Implement your workplace plan to prevent heat-related illness and injury. OSHA recommends that implementation occur when the heat index is around 80° F. As temperatures climb, the plan can be adjusted and corrected as needed.
For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/.
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