OSHA’s efforts to increase awareness about heat safety couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. This year, temperature records are being broken right and left across the US. In areas where severe weather events have knocked out the power, many residents are feeling the full brunt of summer’s raging heat without air conditioning. This isn’t just inconvenient. Exposure to temps in the upper 90s and low 100s can be a real health hazard, claiming lives of those who are unable to find cooler shelter. If you think that people indoors have it bad, stop to think for a minute about employees who regularly work outdoors in the summer. How on earth do they survive being outside in weather like this?
The answer is, “They don’t always survive”. Extreme heat can and does do irreparable harm every year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.”
Heat Illness Doesn’t Just Happen At Home
Heat stroke is the cause of more than 30 workplace fatalities annually in this country. This year, OSHA hopes to lower that number through its national outreach initiative highlighting the dangers of outdoor work in hot weather. This includes education about the 3 essentials of heat safety in the workplace: Rest, Shade, and Water. However, these are only the most obvious facets of a real workplace heat safety program. A comprehensive program includes additional safety training and protocols focused on:
- Ensuring workers do take rest and water breaks as required for their safety
- Putting someone in charge of monitoring workers for signs of heat illness (and instituting a buddy system so workers keep an eye out for their coworkers as well)
- Providing personal protective equipment (breathable clothing, hats, and other sun/heat protection gear)
- Developing and implementing plans for meeting productivity goals in the event of extreme daytime temperatures (such as obtaining lighting and safety equipment to make nighttime work possible)
New Tools Put Heat Safety in the Hands of On-Site Workers
As part of its 2012 initiative, OSHA has created a smartphone app so supervisors and employees can easily check the heat index at any job site. The application also displays the current risk level for outdoor workers and recommends safety precautions. Are you planning to make this app part of your agency’s heat safety strategy? What other updates does your heat safety program need? Maybe it’s time to refresh your safety training before things start getting really hot!