Employers need to be prepared to guard against the risk factors of heat-related illness when an extraordinarily hot day strikes – summer or not.
Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) law, employees must provide workplaces free of known safety hazards, which includes protecting their workforce against extreme heat. However, mercury rising isn’t the only—or the best—indication that your workers are at risk for health-related illness.
The heat index is a single value that factors in both temperature and humidity and is a better reflection of how hot it feels on a given day. The higher the heat index, the less able our bodies are to evaporate sweat and cool the skin. Before heat index levels have the chance the rise, take these four steps to ensure you and your employees are prepared to beat the heat.
1. Formulate a heat illness prevention plan.
The actions required by your company will vary depending on the level of risk on a given day. One way to frame out your heat illness prevention plan is to base it on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s system, which uses the heat index to delineate four risk levels:
Risk Level Heat Index Protective Measures
Lower (Caution) Less than 91°F Implement precautions and heighten awareness
Moderate 91°F to 103°F 97164 Re-evaluation
High 103°F to 115°F Additional precautions to protect workers
Very High to Extreme Greater than 115°F Triggers even more aggressive protective measures
Source: Adapted from OSHA.gov
2. Prep your workforce.
For low-level days, OSHA recommends providing water and provisions located at convenient rest areas, and advising workers to wear sunscreen. As the heat index increases, you may want to consider reevaluating your work/break schedule to allow for more frequent periods of shaded rest. At extreme temperatures, psychological monitoring may be called for and certain work activities may need to be rescheduled. Click here for OSHA’s complete list of recommendations by risk level.
It might seem like overkill to remind workers to drink water on a hot day, but the daily grind can be a serious distraction and it’s easy to forget to hydrate. Drive home this point in new worker training, and establish a system for reminding workers on exceptionally hot days. In addition, make sure your employees know how to recognize signs of heat-related illness, when to report them, and where to go if they need immediate medical assistance.
3. Monitor conditions day-by-day.
Just because you have your plan on paper and your employees trained, doesn’t mean it’s time to sit back and run on autopilot. Employers should track worksite weather daily to assess heat-related risk and take appropriate action. Begin each day with a mandatory check of the current and predicted heat index from the National Weather Service or consider downloading OSHA’s Heat Smartphone App to check the conditions of your worksite as well as risk level and corresponding recommendations.
4. Stick with the plan – but adapt when needed.
The plan established in step 1 will serve as a guide for general implementation, but be aware of additional risk factors that require extra vigilance. Any worker exerting exceptional energy, working in direct sunlight or using bulky protective equipment or non-breathable clothing may be at higher risk of heat-related illness. Be particularly watchful of workers who may not have established a tolerance to hot conditions, such as new employees, temporary workers or those returning after a break of week or more. Allow these employees to gradually increase their workload and take more frequent breaks to acclimatize to hot conditions.
We can’t always accurately predict when a hot day might strike. Use the steps above to formulate a plan that allows you to take action to protect your employees’ health – and your operation – at a moment’s notice.