Work safely in the heat: What you need to know

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Photo: safetyandhealthmagazine.
Heat-related illnesses accounted for 783 worker deaths and nearly 70,000 serious injuries in the United States from 1992 to 2016. And in 2018 alone, 3,950 workers experienced days away from work as a result of nonfatal injuries and illnesses from on-the-job heat exposure.

“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in the workplace, and although heat-related illness is preventable, each year thousands of workers are getting sick from their exposure to heat, and … some cases are fatal,” Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator for OSHA Region 6, said May 19 during an OSHA webinar on preventing heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Working in a hot environment can trigger ailments that include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke – considered a medical emergency. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling faint or dizzy; excessive sweating; cool, pale, clammy skin; nausea or vomiting; rapid, weak pulse; and muscle cramps. Workers who are experiencing heat exhaustion need to get to a cool, air-conditioned place. If fully conscious, they should drink water, take a cool shower and use a cold compress.

Workers with heatstroke may experience a headache but no sweating, and have a body temperature above 103° F. Other symptoms are red, hot, dry skin; nausea or vomiting; and loss of consciousness. Call 911 if a case of heatstroke is suspected, then take action to cool the worker until help arrives.

Other tips from OSHA to help prevent heat-related illnesses include:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes.
  • If working outside, take rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing when working outdoors.
  • Monitor co-workers for symptoms of heat-related 
illnesses.

OSHA provides employer and worker resources for working in hot weather via its “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign at osha.gov/heat.


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Cal/OSHA to employers: It’s your duty to prevent heat illness

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Image: Missouri Department of Transportation/Flickr

Oakland, CA — Employers are responsible for protecting workers from heat illness, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health – also known as Cal/OSHA – reiterates in a recent reminder.

Since 2005, the state has had a heat illness prevention standard for all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction and landscaping. Also protected under the standard are those who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.

Under the standard, employers must:

  • Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
  • Provide instruction on heat illness prevention to all supervisors and employees.
  • Make available drinking water that is fresh, pure and suitably cool, and encourage workers to drink at least 1 quart per hour.
  • Make sure shade is available when temperatures exceed 80° F or when workers request it, and encourage rest breaks.

Employers also should consider heat illness mitigation strategies while implementing required measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including allowing appropriate time and space for workers to take breaks while maintaining physical distancing protocol. Further, employers should provide cloth facial coverings or allow workers to use their own.

“Employers should be aware that wearing face coverings can make it more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off, so additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating,” Cal/OSHA says in a May 26 press release, adding that agricultural and other outdoor workers are not encouraged to wear surgical or respirator masks as facial coverings.

The agency has published a sample document employers can use to develop a heat illness prevention plan.