By James L. Curtis, Mark A. Lies, II, Patrick D. Joyce, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen
Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA Administrator Loren Sweatt recently blogged related to heat illness in the workplace as “forecasters are calling for above-average heat in some parts of the country and scorching temperatures in July and August.” Sweatt suggests six items to keep in mind as employers prepare for a hot summer.
We had previously blogged, Heat Illness Strikes Back: Return to Work’s Untold Story, that as we approach the heat of the summer season and as employers begin to return to work (RTW) after months of COVID-19 quarantine, workers may be out of shape, out of practice on workplace safety procedures, and may have to rebreathe hot air through face coverings. As employers focus on COVID-19 RTW efforts, they should remain aware of risks of safety rule violations, injuries, and heat illness. Loren Sweatt, OSHA’s Acting Administrator, recently blogged on this topic.
In Sweatt’s blog, she provided six tips to prepare employers and employees for a hot summer:
- Memorize these three words: “Water. Rest. Shade.” Ideally, workers should drink cool water as often as possible, but they may need sports beverages containing balanced electrolytes if they are sweating for several hours at a time. Employers should make sure workers can access shaded or air-conditioned rest areas to cool down as needed.
- New and temporary workers are most at risk. The body needs time to build a tolerance to heat, which is why more than 70% of outdoor heat fatalities occur during a worker’s first week of working in warm or hot environments. The process of building tolerance is called “acclimatization.” Learn how to create a heat illness prevention plan and be sure to supervise new employees until they are fully acclimatized.
- Indoor workers also can suffer from heat illness. Kitchens, laundries, warehouses, foundries, boiler rooms and many other indoor work environments can become dangerously hot. See a list of industries where OSHA considers workers to be at high risk.
- Use engineering controls or modify work practices to protect employees. For example, try increasing ventilation using cooling fans, schedule work at a cooler time of the day, and rotate job functions among workers to minimize heat exposure. Find additional best practices from OSHA here.
- Familiarize everyone at your workplace with the signs and symptoms of heat illness and make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency.
- Common heat exhaustion signs are: dizziness, headaches, cramps, sweaty skin, nausea and vomiting, weakness and a fast heartbeat. Heat stroke symptoms may include red, hot, dry skin; convulsions; fainting; very high temperature and confusion.
- Pair workers with a buddy to observe each other for early signs and symptoms of heat illness.
- Employees should call a supervisor for help if they believe someone is ill – and 911 if a supervisor is not available, or if someone shows signs of heat stroke.
- Download the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety App on your iPhone or Android device to help calculate the heat index at your worksite. The app provides specific recommendations for planning work activities and preventing heat illness based on the estimated risk level where you are working.
As workers continue to return to work after a prolonged absence due to COVID-19, employers should be extra vigilant in refreshing employee training, especially as it relates to heat illness prevention and other safety requirements that could have slipped an employee’s mind while they were in quarantine. Return to work may necessitate generalized retraining on core safety rules.
For more information on this or any related topic, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.