With the wide temperature swings we experienced here in the Midwest this past spring, sometimes it can be hard to believe that the summer and the temperature-related health and safety concerns it brings is just around the corner.
To draw attention to this fact, some states observe a Heat Safety Awareness or Heat Awareness Day each year in late spring. For its part, OSHA is once again conducting a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and educate employers and workers on the hazards of working in the heat, along with steps to take in preventing heat-related illnesses and death.
The campaign’s simple slogan “Water. Rest. Shade.” has already reached more than 7 million people in the past three years, according to OSHA. In its materials–fact sheets, posters, quick cards, training guides, and wallet cards–the agency makes it clear that workers at risk include anyone who is exposed to hot and humid conditions, especially anyone performing heavy work tasks and/or using bulky personal protective equipment.
Being able to “take the heat” can take time, and some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not yet built up a tolerance to hot conditions. For those reasons, OSHA recommends allowing more frequent breaks for new workers or workers who have been away from the job for a week or more in order to acclimatize to conditions.
According to OSHA, occupations most affected by heat-related illness are: construction, trade/transportation/utility, agriculture and building/grounds maintenance and cleaning. Other workers who may be affected by exposure to environmental heat include those involved in transportation/baggage handling, water transportation; landscaping services; greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production; and support activities for oil and gas operations.
OSHA makes it clear also that employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat. That can also include furnishing workers with water, rest and shade, as well as education about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their prevention. Worksite training and plans should also address the steps to take both to prevent heat illness and what to do in an emergency. Prompt and proper action can truly save lives.
OSHA’s main safety points for people who work in hot environments are:
•Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty.
•Rest in the shade to cool down.
•Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
•Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
•Keep an eye on fellow workers.
OSHA maintains a dedicated webpage, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html, that includes a heat safety tool app, a training guide and lesson plan, and other resources all aimed at keeping worker health and safety risks low when the mercury starts to climb.