The hot summer months are upon us. With increased heat and humidity workers become more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Workers who are not accustomed to working in the heat can quickly become ill and experience heat stroke, which can lead to serious illness and even death. There are a few things to keep in mind about heat-related illness and what you can do to help prevent it in your workers.
- Train your employees about the dangers of heat-related illnesses. OSHA has excellent training information and materials to help you relate this information to all of your employees who work in the heat. Part of that training should be to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and to act upon them immediately. Never brush it off and continue working. The symptoms exist for a reason!
- Understand that all employees are not equally able to resist the heat. Employees should be able to assess their own conditioning and how well they handle heat. Employees who are taking certain prescription medications or have certain chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, need to pay special attention to how they feel while working. Employees who are new to outdoor jobs are often most susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Try to ease them into the normal workload gradually, until you’re confident they are acclimated.
- Provide additional water stations during the hotter months, at more convenient locations, and encourage employees to drink water every 15 minutes or so, based on temperature. Never wait until you are thirsty to start re-hydrating.
- Provide for more frequent breaks. In the long run employees will be more productive in the heat if they are getting proper rest to allow their bodies to cool down while also keeping themselves better hydrated during these breaks.
- Proper ventilation and air movement inside your warehouse or material handling facility is very important in keeping the temperature at safe levels and your workers cool. Ceiling fans, screen doors for warehouse dock doors, and roof vents are great ways to keep your facility comfortable and more productive.
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.
- Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
- Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
- Monitor workers for signs of illness.
OSHA has provided a wealth of information to help you provide a safe atmosphere to deal with the summer heat. While OSHA does not have a standard pertaining to preventing heat illnesses, it is up to us to be sure we have done everything that we can to help our employees stay safe and avoid heat-related illnesses.
Well-trained and equipped employees are more productive employees. Keeping them safe from the heat during the summer months ensures better productivity for tomorrow and years beyond. But it is ultimately up to us as the employers to be sure our employees are prepared to understand and act accordingly to ensure their own safety.