With the official start of summer, employers need to be mindful of heat safety. With our first heat wave of the year behind us, the East Coast is likely due for substantially more hot and humid weather in the coming months.
For employees who work outside, rising temperatures can pose a serious health risk. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics, 30 workers have died due to heat-related illnesses since 2003.
While the agency does not impose strict guidelines on how employers must deal with oppressive hot weather conditions, the failure to protect workers can still lead to liability. Under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to provide a workplace that is free from “recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” to employees. This includes heat-related hazards.
OSHA is currently conducting a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and educate workers and employers about the hazards of working in the heat. The campaign focuses on the prevention of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, using the message: Water. Rest. Shade.
As further detailed by OSHA, employers should educate their workers on how drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat can help prevent heat illness. They should also include preventative measures in worksite training and worker safety plans. Below are several specific tips offered by the agency:
- Train workers and supervisors about the hazards leading to heat illness and ways to prevent them.
- Train workers to recognize symptoms in themselves and others.
- Train and encourage workers to immediately report symptoms in themselves and others.
- If you have someone who is new to the job or who has been away for more than a week, gradually increase the workload or allow more frequent breaks the first week.
- Provide workers with plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations close to the work area.
- Schedule frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned recovery areas.
- Monitor weather reports daily and reschedule jobs with high heat exposure to cooler times of the day. Be extra vigilant during heat waves when air temperatures rise above normal.
While many of these measures may seem like common sense, failing to have a formal heat stress management program can lead to costly violations of up to $7,000.