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Heat-Related Illness Prevention: A Short Guide for Employers

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Many parts of the United States are experiencing record high temperatures this summer, which means many employees are at a greater risk of heat-related illness. As temperatures and humidity rates continue to rise, it is a reminder for employers to make sure they are protecting the health of their employees who are exposed to such harsh weather conditions on the job. In addition to common sense precautions associated with weather conditions, the Occupational safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers the following guidance:

  • Remember that new outdoor workers and those returning to the job after time away are generally at the highest risk for heat-related illnesses. It is important to gradually increase their workload and allow them to have more frequent breaks in order to get acclimated to the heat.
  • Train workers to be able to recognize and prevent heat-related illnesses. Make sure they understand the different types of heat-related illness and the importance of immediately reporting symptoms. Also explain risk factors that increase susceptibility to heat-related illness, such as: kidney disease, diabetes, alcoholism, obesity, pregnancy, and certain medications.
  • Develop a heat-related illness prevention plan based on different heat-index levels and implement the plan whenever the heat index is 80 ° F or above. Adjust the risk levels and precautions based on factors such as: worksite conditions, type of required clothing, use of protective equipment, health conditions of individual employees, and amount of physical exertion involved on the job.

 

Heat Index Risk Level
Less than 91° F Lower (Caution)
91° F to 103° F Moderate
103° F to 115° F High
Greater than 115° F Very High to Extreme

 

  • Track the weather for the worksite daily to assess the current risk to workers and stay prepared. Detailed weather reports and current heat index levels can be found by using resources such as the National Weather Service or OSHA’s Heat Smartphone App.
  • Provide workers with cool drinking water and when possible, a shaded resting area. Keep the water in convenient, visible locations and make sure that employees are taking frequent breaks.
  • Encourage workers to wear sunscreen and hats. Sunburn increases the risk of cancer and makes the body more susceptible to heat-related illness by reducing the skin’s ability to release excess heat.
  • Ensure there is adequate supervision and communication. Keep workers updated on the weather and the current heat-related risk levels. Make sure supervisors are enforcing break schedules and frequently monitoring workers to check for signs of heat-related illness.

The nature of severe weather is such that particular circumstances require tailored prevention measures to adequately assess and protect employees. This overview is a general informational overview for those purposes in particularized evaluation and application of safety measures for employees. Additional guidance and information regarding heat-related employer precautions can be found at:

-> https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/pdfs/all_in_one.pdf

-> https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/index.html

For more information about this topic, please contact any of the Vandeventer Black Labor and Employment or Construction and Government Contracts practice group attorneys.

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