Employers Must Protect Workers from Excessive Heat
OSHA’s Heat Illness Website Outlines Employers’ Legal Duties
Under federal law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards, which includes protecting workers from extreme heat. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) heat illness website provides employers with (among other things) information on how to meet their obligations under the law.
OSHA’s tips and strategies include the following:
- Provide heat stress training. Topics you may wish to address include worker risk, prevention, symptoms (including the importance of workers monitoring themselves and coworkers), treatment, and personal protective equipment.
- Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day. The best way to prevent heat illness is to make the work environment cooler. Monitor weather reports daily and reschedule jobs with high heat exposure to cooler times of the day. When possible, routine maintenance and repair projects should be scheduled for the cooler seasons of the year.
- Provide rest periods with water breaks. Provide workers with plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations in shade or air conditioning that are close to the work area. Avoid alcohol and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
- Monitor workers who are at risk of heat stress. Workers are at an increased risk of heat stress from personal protective equipment, when the outside temperature exceeds 70°F, or while working at high energy levels. Workers should be monitored by establishing a routine to periodically check them for signs and symptoms of overexposure.
- Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments. Allow workers to get used to hot environments by gradually increasing exposure over at least a 5-day work period. OSHA suggests beginning with 50% of the normal workload and time spent in the hot environment, and then gradually building up to 100% by the fifth day.