Working in hot conditions can cause heat stroke, a heat rash and many other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting, excessive sweating and heat stress. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace that is free from hazards that may cause illness or death and that includes heat.
Here are some ways to protect your employees from heat-related illness and keep them safe.
Create a heat safety program
If any employees are exposed to working outdoors, it’s important to have a heat safety program in place. A well-planned program includes details about the following:
- Adjusting to heat
- Water and shade provisions
- Monitoring weather
- Procedures for working in high heat
- Emergency response
- Documented Training for employees and supervisors
- Written heat safety and emergency response plans
Help employees adjust to hot environments
If your employees work outside and are exposed to hot environments, it is important to ensure they acclimate and adjust to rising temperatures during the onset of the summer season to make sure they can perform their job tasks safely.
It is best to have a supervisor keep a close eye on them for the first two weeks on the job to make sure they are adjusting to the temperatures and tolerating the heat well. This also applies to new hires and employees returning to work after a break throughout the summer season.
If your employees aren’t used to working in excess heat, it’s important to take extra care when the temperatures rise unexpectedly. If your area is experiencing a heat wave, make sure to watch all employees closely for signs of heat stress. Allow them to take frequent breaks in and air-conditioned space, if possible and make sure they are drinking water regularly.
Provide plenty of water, shade and frequent breaks
When working in hot environments that can’t be avoided, be sure to provide employees with plenty of water and access to shade so they can take frequent breaks to cool down.
It’s important to make safe drinking water available at all times and at no cost to your employees. The water should be fresh, pure, reasonably cool and easy to access. That means that water can’t come from sources not meant for drinking, such as garden hoses and irrigation wells. Be sure to plan and prepare for one quart of drinking water per employee per hour for the entire shift.
Encourage your employees to drink water frequently by locating water containers close to where they are working. Also, have a plan to refill water supplies for employees throughout the shift so there is always fresh drinking water available.
Shade is always important and if the temperature is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to make sure your employees can access shade when they request it. If temperatures rise above 80, businesses are required to have one or more shaded areas available to employees at all times.
Locate these areas as close to where employees are working as possible. There should be enough shade available for all employees to comfortably rest or take a meal break and the shade must be located in an area that is free from hazards.
Check in with your employees while they are resting in the shade to make sure they are not showing signs of heat illness. If they are, allow them to rest in the shade and drink water for at least five minutes. If their condition worsens, take appropriate first aid measures or call for emergency help, if needed.
Monitor the weather to prevent heat related illness
It’s important for supervisors to track the weather when employees are working outside. This information will help them plan for heat-related safety measures, such as change in shift schedules, i.e. starting and stopping earlier in the day, increasing the number of water and shade rest breaks and the implementation of high heat procedures.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is a helpful resource for planning outdoor work activities based on how hot it feels throughout the day. It features real-time heat index and hourly forecasts for your area and offers OSHA suggestions on heat safety when conditions become dangerously hot. This tool also provides information about signs, symptoms and first aid for heat-related illnesses.
How to work safely in 95°+ weather
When it is 95°F or hotter, it’s important to follow strict high heat-safety procedures and make sure your employees know what those procedures include. When the heat tops 95°F, direct your supervisors to hold a pre-shift or tailgate meeting to remind employees about the safety precautions. This includes:
- Reviewing the high-heat procedures your company has in place
- Reminding employees of their right to take a cool-down rest when necessary
- Encouraging employees to drink plenty of water
- Making sure employees know where you store cooling items, such as cold packs or fans
It’s also important to keep an even closer eye on employees working outside in a 95°F+ environment. Assign a supervisor or another employee to carefully observe 20 or fewer employees make sure they’re following heat-related precautions.
It’s also a good idea to have a mandatory buddy system so employees working closely together keep an eye on each other, remind each other to drink water and take breaks frequently and take a 10-minute or more cool-down rest every two hours to help prevent heat stress or illness.
Be ready for an emergency
Make sure your team members know what to do in the event of a heat-related emergency. Signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Fast heartbeat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excessive sweating
Make sure to assign more than one employee the job of calling emergency services if a crew member is showing signs of heat-related illness. They will need to know the address and cross streets of the job site and be able to direct emergency responders to the employee in distress.
Monitor any employees showing signs or symptoms of heat illness and stay with them in a cool place with plenty of water until help arrives.
Create a written plan and train your team
It’s not enough to just take safety precautions in the heat. You must have a written plan and train your supervisors and employees on your heat-related procedures. This plan will outline the proactive measures your company is taking to prevent heat-related illness, how it will respond if it does occur, emergency response procedures and how you will train your employees so they know how to work safely outdoors in the heat.
Best practices for planning include:
You may include your Heat Illness Prevention Plan as part of your Illness and Injury Prevention Program required by section 3203 in OSHA.
Make sure to establish, implement and maintain an effective program in writing in both English other languages understood by employees.
Keep heat safety plans and procedures at the worksite, so they can be made available to employees and Cal/OSHA representatives upon request.
Planning tools and resources
If you don’t already have a heat safety plan in place, there are tools and resources to help you get started:
- Visit CopperPoint's Loss Control Toolbox for heat safety resources and videos.
- Find and download free multilingual educational materials.
- Find a Heat Illness Prevention eTool with real world examples of heat illness.
Proper planning can mean the difference between life and death when working in high heat outdoors, so make sure you and your employees are prepared to work safely in any conditions.
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