Don’t take UV rays, heat, or your health for granted when working this summer. Working in hot weather, indoors or outside, can be downright dangerous, with thousands of Americans becoming sick, and more than 10 deaths each year due to preventable heat-related illnesses. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, heat-related deaths occur mostly in construction. Workplaces should prepare for emergencies adequately and ensure signs and labels are in place.
OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign educates employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. Three key words embody OSHA’s safety message: Water. Rest. Shade. OSHA and the National Weather Service use the last Friday in May as Heat Awareness Day. The day is meant to help educate the public on the dangers of prolonged heat exposure and bring attention to the deadly hazard in work environments. Extreme heat impacts thousands of employees who work indoors and outside, whether inside a boiler room or iron foundry, kitchens, on farms, roadways, or at construction sites.
As temperatures rise over the coming months, workplaces can utilize tips, educational materials, and products to help workers stay safe and cool. Teaching workers the signs of heat-related illness and how to act quickly can prevent more serious medical conditions, and may even save lives. Available through OSHA, employers can download a heat-stress “quick card," which explains how to protect workers from extreme heat conditions. OSHA specifies that:
- Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature, and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. Call 911 if a coworker shows signs of heatstroke.
- Heat Exhaustion is also a serious illness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst, and heavy sweating. Heat fatigue and heat rash are less serious, but they are still signs of too much heat exposure.
Further, OSHA recommends tips on its website, including the following:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty and rest in the shade.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large amounts of sugar, all of which promote dehydration.
- Ask your health provider if any medications you are taking don't mix well with the sun.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers for signs of heat exhaustion and remind them to take breaks.
- Acclimate on your first days of work; be sure to get used to the heat and allow yourself to build up a tolerance. Not being used to the heat is a big problem. Many people die from heat stress when they are new to working in the heat or returning from a break. If a worker has not worked in hot weather for a week or more, their body needs time to adjust.
- Wear light-color clothing and a head covering to shield the body from damaging UV rays.
OSHA doesn’t require employers to provide skin products with SPF. While many companies do provide some sort of protection through a heat illness protection program, being proactive and using available resources is ultimately part of personal responsibility. Workplaces can set up water and shade stations and update emergency stations for hot weather.
- Mark drinking water and rest stations.
- Post reminders for shade breaks.
- Post up-to-date emergency contact information should a worker suffer heat stroke or another heat-related ailment.
Also, when a task requires specific personal protective equipment, it's important to not ditch PPE safety due to the heat.
Heat Safety Ideas: What U.S. Companies are Doing to Beat the Heat
Sometimes inspiration comes from examples of what companies are doing successfully, and OSHA has exemplary instances of companies protecting workers from heat stress. If your company has effective tips to share, you can also submit them by emailing them to HeatSafetyTips@dol.gov. Three working examples of employers beating the heat include:
Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries in Springfield, Illinois, has a buddy system. Workers watch out for each other and quickly report symptoms of heat illness to their supervisor. By company policy, new employees are to acclimate to the heat by taking frequent breaks during their first two weeks on the job and heatwaves. Workers also get cooling caps and bandanas and may work earlier shifts. Additional breaks, water, and hydrating sports drinks are available on days when temperatures might soar.
Workers at aviation maintenance company Valair Aviation in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, perform work activities in aircraft hangars that can exceed 95 degrees. Large fans, ice machines, and filtered water dispensers are placed around the hangars, and jobs can rotate to cooler locations within the hangars. Workers are trained on the signs of dehydration, heat cramps, and heat stroke, with nearly all of the workers certified in first aid, CPR, and defibrillator use. If heat illness does occur, they will know how to handle the situation until EMS arrives.
Keeping workers cool through fine misting water spray throughout the day is key at Ballard Marine Construction of Washougal, Washington. The marine contractor serves global clients in the nuclear, hydroelectric, salvage, pipeline, and submarine cable industries. To combat the heat, the company ensures the set-up of portable shade canopies with misting hoses woven throughout the frames that continually spray workers. Barges are installed with misters and misting fans.
For additional workplace emergency preparation, use Graphic Products' free guide.