Here in the Southeast we have now hit a week where temperatures have exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit. As I drive from location to location I watch workers toil in the heat to complete many different outside jobs. Should you be protecting these workers and insuring they don’t wilt or collapse under the intense heat?
What OSHA says
OSHA indeed says it is your responsibility as an employer to provide protection against the heat and sun. They even have an official program, started in 2011, called OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign, designed to educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. They say their safety message comes down to three key words: Water. Rest. Shade.
The toll on workers
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. There is a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition.
Employer Responsibility to Protect Workers
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This is known as the General Duty Clause. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. This includes:
- Providing workers with water, rest and shade.
- Allowing 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.
- Planning for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
- Monitoring workers for signs of illness.
It takes time
With as long as winter held on, and as quickly as the heat has increased, it takes time to build a tolerance to the heat. So early in the season it is especially important for employers to attend to the welfare of their employees. Heat can exhaust you very quickly.
A great resource
OSHA has a great resource to help employers understand what they need to do. Check out the Occupational Heat Exposure section on the OSHA website.