Help your workers avoid heat-related illness

By Higginbotham on July 11 , 2018

Heat danger

Summer’s here. The long, hot days are great for anyone who wants to spend the day by the pool, but for anyone who has to work, the heat can be uncomfortable. In some cases, it can even be dangerous. Heat-related illness is a serious threat. With a little care, however, employers can keep their workers safe and prevent heat-related workers’ compensation insurance claims.

The Consequences of Too Much Heat

According to the CDC, too much sun and heat exposure can result in heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the most severe of these conditions and requires emergency medical care. People suffering from heat stroke may experience nausea, confusion, dizziness, headache, a fast pulse, a high temperature, skin that is hot and red and either dry or damp and loss of consciousness.

Heat exhaustion and heat cramps can also be serious and may require medical care. Even sunburns can get serious when they’re severe enough.

The Impact on Workers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental heat resulted in 2,830 nonfatal occupational injuries and illness that involved missed days of work in 2015. That same year, 37 workers died due to heat-related problems. Of those deaths, 33 occurred between June and September.  

Certain occupations experienced a higher rate of heat-related injuries.

  • Transportation and material moving occupations experienced 720 nonfatal injuries.
  • Production occupations experienced 390 nonfatal injuries.
  • Protective service occupations experienced 350 nonfatal injuries.
  • Installation, maintenance and repair occupations experienced 330 nonfatal injuries.
  • Construction and extraction occupations experienced 280 nonfatal injuries.
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations experienced 150 nonfatal injuries.

Basic Heat Safety

Simple precautions can help reduce the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related health problems. Establish guidelines and work procedures that encourage your team members to:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Stay in the shade or wear a hat.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing.
  • Avoid working during peak heat.

Workers and supervisors should monitor themselves and others for signs of heat-related illness. Depending on the severity, a person suffering from heat-related illness may need anything from a break in a cool place and some water to emergency medical attention. 

OSHA Guidelines on Heat Safety

Although OSHA does not have a standard that specifically addresses working in the heat, employers are responsible for protecting workers from known hazards, including heat-related hazards.

The OSHA heat index recommends protective measures based on four risk levels.

  • Under 91°F — low risk level, basic heat and safety planning needed
  • 91°F to 103°F — moderate risk level, precautions and heightened awareness needed
  • 103°F to 115°F — high risk level, additional precautions needed
  • Above 115°F — very high to extreme risk level, aggressive protective measures needed

Employers can use the heat index in OSHA’s four-step system:

  • Step One: Create a plan. This plan includes having supplies, such as water, available, developing an emergency response, creating a plan for worker acclimatization to the heat, and training workers on heat-related issues. In moderate to extreme heat risk levels, employers also need to be prepared to modify work schedules and monitor workers for signs of heat-related illness.
  • Step Two: Train workers on heat-related issues, including how to stay safe and what symptoms to watch for. This should be done before the temperature rises.
  • Step Three: Monitor the weather. You need to know when the temperature is expected to peak.
  • Step Four: Implement the plan. The heat index should be used whenever the temperature reaches 80°

Go to OSHA’s website for more details on each of the above guidelines.

The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is an app that helps workers and supervisors calculate the heat index and get important safety reminders. You can download it on Android or iPhone devices.

Heat can also be a problem indoors. OSHA recommends maintaining an office temperature that ranges from 68°F to 76°F.

Higginbotham can help with workers’ compensation insurance and workplace safety strategies. Contact us to learn more.


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