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Much of an EI health and safety professional’s time is spent out of the office in the field. And in the field….it can get hot. Whether its standing inside a steel mill or in the middle of a desert in Abu Dhabi at high noon. Believe me – that’s hot!
OSHA recommends an approach that develops actions based on the measure of Heat Index, which is an easily derived function of air temperature and relative humidity.
Recently, Adam Underwood, our Vice President of Business Development, wrote about heat stress and its impact on workforces here in the United States. He provided some excellent guidance for keeping workers healthy and hydrated while working outdoors in hot environments. As employers, the question is “how do I put a plan in place that protects my workers – especially those that work outdoors.” But keep in mind that high heat conditions can and do occur often indoors, especially around hot processes. OSHA has a lot to say about working in heat and heat illness. However, to date there is no actual standard on heat stress. But, if OSHA finds workers at risk, the General Duty clause is still an option.
OSHA recommends an approach that develops actions based on the measure of Heat Index, which is an easily derived function of air temperature and relative humidity. Depending on the Heat Index level, recommendations become increasingly more stringent (see the table below). Solutions include acclimatization, hydration, training and work/rest schedules. OSHA’s information on using the Heat Index Guide can be found here.
OSHA’s Heat Index Strategy
There actually is a regulation out there – California OSHA has promulgated their own specific regulation on Heat Illness Prevention and it provides an excellent template for any employer wishing to put a Heat Illness Plan in place. The standard and its requirements can be found here.
This California regulation applies to all employers (in the State of California) and includes a requirement for a written program (always a good idea to document what we do and make sure everyone is on the same page). The regulation requires provision of adequate drinking water. In addition, whenever employees are working outdoors, adequate shaded areas are required, with specific requirements for how it is provided and that employees should be encouraged to take breaks of no less than five minutes whenever they feel it is necessary to protect themselves from overheating. Specific requirements are provided for employee and supervisor training on Plan procedures and risks of heat, including signs and symptoms of heat illness. Finally, for high heat conditions (exceeding 95 oF) there are more detailed high heat requirements.
As we are into the “dog days” of summer, take another look at how you handle high heat conditions, especially if you have workers outdoors; in construction, agriculture, landscaping, utilities and even baggage handlers and ramp workers. There is plenty of guidance out there. Putting a Plan together with a comprehensive approach just may keep you out of hot water!