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EMPLOYEE SAFETY: PREVENTING HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS

Summer is a prime time for outdoor work—and for heat stroke. OSHA has created a heat index chart as a guide to employers. If you have outdoor workers, those workers are at risk for heat-related illness. Even though OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard, if a worker suffers a heat-related illness, the employer can be fined under the general duty clause. With all the Smart-phone usage on the job, I strongly recommend installing an app that gives the working foremen the heat index at any given time. With that knowledge, the foreman can take the appropriate protective measures as defined below*:
Heat Index Risk Level Protective Measures
Less than 91◦F           Low (Caution) Basic heat & safety planning
91◦F to 103◦F             Moderate Implement precautions & heighten awareness
103◦F to 115◦F             High Additional precautions to protect workers
Greater than 115◦F     Very High to Extreme Triggers even more aggressive protective measures
*OSHA’s Online Toolkit

Since the heat index is a single value that takes both the temperature and humidity into account, it is a better measure than air temperature alone. For workers in direct sunlight, up to 15 degrees should be added to the heat index.  If your workers are performing strenuous activity, using heavy or non-breathable clothing, or are new to outdoor work, they need extra protection. The newbies are the workers most at risk; they haven’t been acclimated to the working conditions yet. In 25 incidents reported to OSHA, in almost half of the cases, a worker was on his first day and in 80% of the cases, the worker had been on the job for four or fewer days. So for newbies, gradually increase their outdoor workload over their first couple of weeks and/or allow them more frequent breaks until they get acclimated.

All employers know that you must have potable water on site for your workers. For most of my clients, big coolers filled with ice and water bottles are standard equipment. Some tricks that they have taught me:
1. Add some re-fillable water bottles to the cooler after filling them ¾ of the way and freezing them overnight. They will help keep the other bottles of water cold.
2. A solid block of ice, wrapped in newspaper, will last almost all day in the bottom of a cooler.
3. Bandanas can be dipped in the cool water and provide instant relief when applied to the neck or the head.

If you use other methods that benefit your outdoor workers, please share them with me for future blogs. In the meantime, if you need some guidance on providing your employees with a safe and healthy workplace, please reach out to HR Compliance 101 for help.

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