Keeping employees protected from the effects of hot summer heat is essential to workplace safety. Critical to this process is the implementation of training and acclimating to heat conditions. A lack in either of these can result in heat-related injuries, illnesses and even death.
Workers exposed to extreme heat are at risk for a number of ailments including: heat stroke, heat exhaustion, fainting, cramps,rashes or death. Heat stress can also increase the likelihood of injuries due to circumstances such as sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness and reduced brain function. Professions at risk run the gamut, including construction and agriculture—who may be exposed to long hours of sun.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently updated its Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Hot Environments, containing revised information on specific risks of heat-induced illnesses and how to properly educate both supervisors and workers. The revisions take into account current scientific data on heat stress and hot environments and shed new light on this area of concern, helping employers to be more proactive in keeping employees safe. They include:
- updated information about physiological changes that result from heat stress;
- the effects of caffeine use;
- and, updated information on physiological monitoring and personal protective equipment and clothing that can be used to control heat stress.
Additionally, as the U.S. population becomes increasingly overweight and obese, it is equally crucial to raise awareness of heat disorders, because they occur more frequently among this demographic.
Proper training and education is key in preventing heat-related illnesses that are dangerous to employees and can lead to increase costs for the employer associated with workers' comp, short term disability issues and worse -- employment practices liability and directors and officers claims against management for poor working conditions, or business disruption events due to a fatality investigation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) underscores the importance in its Campaign to Keep Workers Safe in the Heat with its safety message that comes down to three words: Water. Rest. Shade. Heat illnesses and death are preventable, and under OSHA law, employers must protect workers from extreme heat by making sure these three provisions are in place, as well as:
- Allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimate or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Planning for emergencies and training workers on prevention.
- Monitoring workers for signs of illness.
Employers need to take precautions and remind workers and their managers to take protective measures. Once you understand the composition of your workforce and its evolving needs, a baseline for your risk will emerge, allowing you to develop policies, programs and processes with a holistic view of the organization. Ask your HUB broker about coverage lines, HR benefits and risk strategies to help minimize your exposure and maximize the performance of employees of all ages.