A key aspect of employee safety involves training on how to limit heat exposure and how to identify signs of heat-related illness. We tend to think of heat-related illnesses as occurring most often in outdoor environments during the summer months, and with good reason. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, 4,420 workers were affected by heat-related illnesses and 61 workers died as a result of them. Even indoors, heat exposure from various sources can lead to illness, accidents and unsafe work conditions in general. Not surprisingly, like an increasing number of life situations, there’s an app for that. Make that several.
OSHA’s heat stress app (OSHA Heat Safety Tool) “allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite.” That’s according to the agency’s website. When supplied with temperature and humidity information, the app makes a quick calculation to determine the heat index – a fairly realistic measure of what the environment actually feels like. The app goes a step further by offering specific precautions to take based on the calculated heat index. Useful as it may be in assessing a present situation, its value as a planning tool is limited.
Enter the Maximum Heat Index Forecasts page from the National Weather Service. While not a smartphone app, the page is easy to access from a variety of devices and provides the heat index forecast for the next five days.
The page starts off by showing the heat forecast three to seven days from the present date. By clicking on the small map in the left-most column for a given day, the user can view a larger, color-coded map filled with that date’s predicted maximum heat index values. It’s possible also to click on other cities in a given area to view a specific forecast presented in the form of a table. All this is great when you want to look ahead several days. In the short term – say, when you want to know about maximum index forecast for today or tomorrow – the NWS forecast webpage draws a blank.
The workaround? It’s possible to view an hour-by-hour heat index forecast from the local NWS forecast page.
Navigate to www.weather.gov and input your zip code or city. On the local forecast webpage, scroll down and click on the hourly weather forecast graph in the right column. Presto. There, in the top part of the graph, is the hourly heat index.
If all this seems very useful but a bit clunky, it also serves to point the way to the development of a streamlined app that can provide NWS heat index forecast information in real time. Web developers, take note.