At the end of April, Cal/OSHA issued the first heat advisory of 2014. The first week of May brought temperatures as much as 25 degrees above the normal balmy springtime weather in California. According to Juliann Sum (acting chief at Cal/OSHA), the first early temperature spikes of the season are some of the most dangerous. Employers have been put on notice to give employees the chance to get used to higher temps. “All workers, regardless of fitness, should be given the opportunity to acclimatize to handle heat stress and prevent serious injuries from heat illness.”
Outdoor Sewer Work Carries Heat Illness Risks
In the wastewater industry, outdoor workers engaged in tasks such as pipe laying are at particular risk for heat related illness. The hazards are greatest for new employees who don’t know their own limits. In 2006, a construction worker in Washington State experienced heatstroke on the job while installing an underground water line along a roadside. Even with plenty of hydration, the young man collapsed after a 7 hour workday spent in the sun in temperatures ranging from 80 to 105 degrees. Six days later, he died in the hospital from complications related to heatstroke. When the employee first became ill, his employer suggested he take a break in the shade. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that coworkers saw he had collapsed. This begs the question: Where was the person who should have been monitoring workers for signs of serious heat illness so first aid could be administered immediately?
Better Monitoring May Help Prevent Heatstroke
While coworkers must all be trained to identify the signs of heat related illness, supervisors should be apprised of more advanced methods to keep workers safe. NIOSH, OSHA, and the EPA offer some additional guidance for physiological monitoring that can help in high risk situations. For example, checking the heart rate of employees at the start of each rest period can help assess the amount of stress being placed on the body by hot working conditions. If the heart rate is more than 110 beats per minute, the next work cycle should be shorter (but rest periods should remain the standard length). Temperature monitoring and other methods can be used in a similar way.
For fit, acclimatized workers, the suggested interval for monitoring is every 45 minutes when temperatures are higher than 90 degrees. During the first heat wave of the season, or when new workers are being acclimatized, more frequent monitoring might be in order. Since the methods for physiological monitoring are simple and the equipment is inexpensive, this is a great way to increase workplace safety. For more ideas on how to cost-effectively reduce risks with better training, procedures, and equipment, contact us for a consultation.