Hot weather can be a serious workplace hazard if appropriate safety precautions are not taken. For employers and safety managers, preventing heat illness and injury can be more complicated than one might assume.
Following summer safety tips for the workplace and adhering to weather-related safety regulations from OSHA typically leaves employers with considerable discretion. Regulatory flexibility may be a relief, but without proper training, it can also leave employees needlessly exposed to risk.
What Are the Risks of Hot Weather?
Heat illness can range from headaches and discomfort to debilitating injuries. Heat stroke is the most serious condition that can result from overexposure to hot conditions.
In heat stroke, the body has lost the ability to regulate its core temperature, whether due to dehydration or other factors. The victim’s body temperature can rapidly rise to a level that can cause long-term injury if not treated within a very short time.
Unlike other significant sources of workplace risk, hot weather does not have a huge body of regulatory guidelines to make the safety manager’s job easier. Federal OSHA does not have specific rules governing hot weather conditions and instead falls back on the general obligation of employers to protect their employees from serious hazards. State laws may require specific steps, like provision of drinking water to prevent dehydration.
How can your organization facilitate summer heat safety at work?
Effective Summer Heat Stress Safety Training Is the Answer
Of course, an effective safety program typically needs to go beyond the regulatory minimums to establish a reliably safe work environment. Addressing heat-related hazards begins with a sound heat stress safety training program.
Here are some of the core procedures a training program might cover:
- Hazard recognition. Employees and managers need to know how to recognize when conditions are becoming unsafe. Instead of relying on air temperature alone, OSHA recommends employers use the heat index. The heat index combines air temperature and humidity to arrive at a more meaningful measure of working hazards.
- Illness recognition. Every employee needs to be familiar with the signs of common heat-related illness, both in themselves and in their coworkers. A flushed, dry complexion, rapid heart rate, headache, or dizziness all may be signs of the onset of heat stroke.
- Mitigation practices. Addressing heat risk is not difficult, but it often requires deliberate processes to avoid problems consistently. Regular water breaks and provisions for shade, which might include portable pop-up structures, are essential. Employees should be trained to take care of themselves with proper hydration techniques and clothing choices.
- Emergency response. The onset of heat stroke leaves little time for a medical response. Emergency help should be contacted immediately, but the crew needs to have a plan in place for addressing potential heat stroke.Employees should know to get the affected worker out of the sun and into a cooling environment, which might include being placed in a cold shower or under the flow of a hose. Every employee should know where cold water can be accessed, and if a site does not have regular access to cold water, the employer may need to provide its own source, like a cooler full of ice.
DXP Is a Leading Expert in Safety Training
The safety training team at DXP Enterprises works with clients to develop better practices to keep their employees healthy, reduce downtime, and save money. Our comprehensive program examines current practices, provides on-site training tailored to the site’s unique conditions and verifies results with testing.