Heat Illness Prevention Tips for Peak Summer Months
Especially for custodial staffs tasked with exterior maintenance and other outdoor-related responsibilities, it’s critical to make sure frontline workers are properly checking in on themselves and their fellow employees as temperatures rise to dangerously levels hot across the country and will continue so for the next couple of months.
As temperatures and the risk of heat illness rise in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration reminds employers and workers not to ignore the dangers of working in hot weather – indoors and out. Incorporating water, rest and shade can be the difference between ending the workday safely or suffering serious injuries or worse.
From 2011-2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 344 worker-related deaths in U.S. were due to environmental heat exposure. Workplace safety experts believe the actual number of heat-related fatalities may be higher due to under or misreporting as other causes, such as heart attacks.
To combat the dangers of heat exposure, OSHA launched a national emphasis program in April 2022 to protect workers from heat illness and injuries.
“Throughout the Southeast, millions of workers are exposed to serious hazards from high temperatures. We strongly urge employers to learn how to recognize and mitigate these hazards to keep their workers safe,” says OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta. “OSHA's heat illness prevention campaign focuses on raising awareness of these critical dangers faced by workers. Through our national emphasis program, we are reaching out to unions, employers in target industries and other organizations to protect workers most often exposed to heat illness and injuries. Together, we can prevent the tragic loss of life of yet another worker as a result of heat illness.”
OSHA's message is simple: Water. Rest. Shade. Employers should:
▪ Encourage workers to drink water every 15 minutes.
▪ Ensure workers take frequent rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
▪ Have an emergency plan ready to respond when a worker shows signs of heat-related illness.
▪ Train supervisors and workers on the hazards of heat exposure, how to recognize common signs and symptoms, and how to prevent illness.
▪ Allow workers to build a tolerance for working in heat.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool – available in English and Spanish – is a free app that calculates a worksite's heat index and shows the associated risk levels. Users will see precautionary recommendations specific to heat index risk levels to help protect employees from heat-related illness.
OSHA's Occupational Heat Exposure page explains the symptoms of heat illness, first aid measures to provide while waiting for help, engineering controls and work practices to reduce workers' exposure to heat, and training.
Read a fact sheet on OSHA's National Emphasis Program to protect workers across the nation from the increasing threat of heat related illness.