With summer fast approaching, along with all the seasonal fun, a potential worker health risk is looming—heat stress or heat illness. Any workplace may represent a heat stress exposure if high temperatures and strenuous work are present.
The following list of industries represents those with a recognized risk:
- Foundries, smelting and forging
- Manufacturing (including food processing)
- General warehousing
- Energy (oil/gas drilling, servicing and mining)
It is important to be watchful of any industry or work situation that is outdoors during hot weather or that may be subject to high indoor temperatures as potential heat stress environments.
Preventing heat stress involves assessing work conditions and recognizing that heat may be a problem, as well as training employees on the signs and symptoms of heat illness and providing support to workers to help them with prevention.
The following 5 steps can be taken to help reduce the risk of heat stress:
- Train employees on the risks of heat illness and things they should do to protect themselves. This includes wearing loose, light-colored clothing, using sunscreen when outside and drinking plenty of fluids. Also outline the effects that certain medications can have on working in hot weather.
- Support employee acclimation to hot weather by gradually ramping up work – for example, working an increasing number of hours per day, starting with two hours and increasing work time slightly each day for five days to help them get used to the hot weather.
- Design work schedules, when possible, around the weather by scheduling the most strenuous activities earlier in the day or at night when the weather is cooler
- Provide a source of cool, clean water for employees to drink and encourage them to drink water frequently, three to four times per hour during the most strenuous work and hottest weather.
- Provide areas of shade or cooling for employee rest breaks and encourage breaks at least every hour on the hottest days. If possible, include air conditioned areas or an area where beneficial air movement, such as misting fans, is available.
Finally, monitor work and weather conditions throughout the work day and adjust work, suggested fluid intake and rest periods accordingly. OSHA has developed a Heat Safety Tool app that works on both iOS and Android operating systems. The app uses the local temperature and relative humidity to identify potential risk levels using the heat index. Activating “location services” will allow the app to pre-fill local data from the National Weather Service. The app also directs the user to possible protective measures and precautions suggested for a given heat index level. This could be a useful tool for workers and supervisory staff to help monitor changing hot weather conditions and institute controls.
Taking the time now to plan for the summer heat will minimize potential illness. Let’s be careful out there and have a great summer!