As temperatures across the country rise throughout the summer, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reminds employers and workers not to ignore the dangers of working in hot weather – indoors and out.
From 2011-2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 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 underreported or misreported as another cause, such as heart attacks.
National Emphasis Program
To combat the dangers of heat exposure OSHA launched a national emphasis program in April 2022 to protect workers in at risk industries from heat illness and injuries, which employers should be keeping in mind as the summer progresses, namely for any days in which the heat index is over 80 degrees.
OSHA's NEP message is simple: Water. Rest. Shade. Emphasizing in their NEP that they expect employers to provide an unlimited supply cool water that is easily accessible, scheduled breaks, and easy access to shaded areas. Along with that, workplaces should be implementing several engineering and administrative controls to create safer environments.
Engineering Controls to Combat Heat
The best engineering controls to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler and to reduce manual workload with mechanization. A variety of engineering controls can reduce workers' exposure to heat:
- Air conditioning (such as air-conditioned crane or construction equipment cabs, air conditioning in break rooms)
- Increased general ventilation
- Cooling or misting fans
- Local exhaust ventilation at points of high heat production or moisture (such as exhaust hoods in laundry rooms)
- Reflective shields to redirect radiant heat
- Insulation of hot surfaces (such as furnace walls)
- Elimination of steam leaks
- Cooled seats or benches for rest breaks
- Use of mechanical equipment to reduce manual work (such as conveyors and forklifts).
Some worksites cannot be cooled by engineering controls. At those locations, employers should modify work practices when heat stress is too high to work safely. OSHA urges employers to consider administrative controls:
- Modify work schedules and activities for workers who are new to warm environments.
- Schedule shorter shifts for newly hired workers and unacclimatized existing workers. Gradually increase shift length over the first 1-2 weeks.
- Require mandatory rest breaks in a cooler environment (such as a shady location or an air conditioned building). The duration of the rest breaks should increase as heat stress rises.
- Consider scheduling work at a cooler time of day, such as early morning or late afternoon.
- Reduce physical demands as much as possible by planning the work to minimize manual effort (such as delivering material to the point of use so that manual handling is minimized).
- Ensure that workers drink an adequate amount of water or electrolyte-containing fluids.
- Employers should have an emergency plan that specifies what to do if a worker has signs of heat-related illness, and ensures that medical services are available if needed.
- Workers should watch out for each other for symptoms of heat-related illness prepared to administer appropriate first aid to anyone who is developing a heat-related illness.
- Administer appropriate first aid to any worker who is developing a heat-related illness.
- Implement a buddy system for new workers and in heat stress environments.
In most cases, heat stress should be reduced by engineering controls or work practice modifications. However, in some limited situations, special cooling devices can protect workers in hot environments, like the ones below:
- Insulated suits
- Reflective clothing
- Infrared reflecting face shields
- Cooling neck wraps
It should be noted that while PPE is a great tool to mitigate feelings of heat stress, that certain types of PPE intended for other areas of work can actually accelerate heat related illnesses. PPE like waterproof aprons, surgical gowns, surgical caps, respirators, face shields, boots, and gloves can increase heat illness in the body in the following ways:
- Reduces the body’s normal way of getting rid of heat by sweating and other means.
- Holds excess heat and moisture inside, making the worker’s body even hotter.
- Increases the physical effort to perform duties while carrying the extra weight of the PPE and can lead to the worker getting hotter faster.
personnel in your workplace are exposed to high temperatures while wearing PPE
like what is mentioned above, make sure that they are advised to remove all PPE
during rest breaks to allow the body to cool down faster.
Updating Your Safety System
OSHA’s NEP will continue to remain in effect for the next three years unless canceled or extended by a superseding directive, and should be followed closely by employers in at risk industries. If you're looking to update your facility's safety sign system, visit our safety sign catalog to view up to date ANSI/ISO best practices and designs. Feel free to reach out to our team today with any questions or clarifications on how this may impact your workplace!