With summer upon us and the excessive heat and humidity that comes with it, employers need to take heed of their responsibility to ensure their workers are safe from potential heat-related threats that can cause occupational illnesses and injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), thousands of workers suffer each year from preventable heat-related illnesses. In addition, workers in certain industries, such as manufacturing, construction and transportation, are at greater risk for a heat-related illness if measures are not implemented.
Workers at manufacturing plants, particularly in facilities difficult to cool or those who work in a zone close to a heat-producing machine, can suffer from indoor heat stress, which includes symptoms such as dizziness (mild in the early stages), irritability, fatigue, a prickling sensation, cramps, heavy thirst, fast pulse, slurred speech, nausea, and cessation of sweating and fainting. During the later stages of heat illness, a person’s temperature might drop, and heat stroke can occur suddenly. According to OSHA standards, air temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (F) may increase the heat load on workers to unsafe levels. Workers are at serious risk for dangerous heat-related illnesses if temperatures rise above 100.4 degrees F. While the heat in some facilities may not come close to these benchmarks, it is important to note that temperatures about 77 degrees can have notable effects on worker productivity and moral.
A key preventative measure in protecting workers at manufacturing facilities is to make sure they are acclimatized to the heat in their work environment. This can be accomplished by gradually increasing the workers’ workload under high-temperature conditions so that their bodies can build a tolerance to the heat. This is especially important for new and temporary workers who are not used to working in the heat, as well as for workers who have recently taken a break/vacation of a week or more from work. In addition, many manufacturing jobs require that workers wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect them from exposure to workplace hazards. However, it is important to note that PPE may increase workers’ susceptibility to heat illnesses, especially if the equipment is heavy or filters air to the respiratory system.
Other preventative measures include proper ventilation, regular rotation into cool areas, consistent and regular hydration (avoiding drinks with any kind of sugar or caffeine), and attentive monitoring of air conditions and employee well-being, especially on hot days or in hot environments.
Construction workers are also at an elevated risk of heat stress, due to the strenuous nature of the work, high-temperature work conditions, and working in enclosed spaces. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20 construction workers die from heat-related illnesses each year. Acclimatization is also key for construction workers to help prevent heat-related illnesses. Other measures include providing cool water and encouraging workers to drink it all day; providing shade or a cool environment for workers to take breaks; putting workers on breaks frequently during high heat; scheduling hot or physically demanding jobs for the coolest parts of the day; and creating a “buddy system” for workers to watch out for each other. Employers must also train construction workers on how to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions like exposure to extreme heat.
The summer heat also creates health risks for truckers. The cab of a truck is probably pretty cool and comfortable when the key is on but there is a clear danger of a heat-related illness for many drivers who are securing a load, inspecting a truck, or simply parked in a strict no-idle spot on a hot day. A driver can become sick from the heat on a hot day and even acutely incapacitated in as little as 30 minutes if not careful. To help prevent heat-related illnesses, employers in the transportation industry should make sure their drivers:
- Learn the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and monitor for those signs on hot days.
- Wear loose fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing to allow the body to cool properly and sweat to evaporate.
- Avoid sunburn as it reduces the body’s ability to rid itself of heat.
- Look for cool places. These may include the air conditioned cab or a restaurant at a rest stop.
- Avoid hot spots. Even a well-insulated truck can become dangerously hot in the summer heat when the air conditioner is turned off.
- Once again, drink plenty of fluids. Water and electrolyte drinks like Gatorade and Powerade will help to keep a trucker hydrated.
Keeping employees safe on the job is the responsibility of all employers. This involves having a robust safety program that includes tips and measures on keeping cool during the summer months. By taking steps to prevent heat illness and injury, employers keep workers safe, maintain productivity and avoid costly Workers’ Compensation claims.
RPS specializes in providing Workers’ Compensation insurance solutions to the manufacturing, construction and transportation industries among many other sectors. We are committed to helping clients reduce their risk for on-the-job injuries and illnesses in addition to offering the best insurance program to meet their needs. Just give us a call.