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Hot Town, Summer in the City

May 21, 2019

 

With Memorial Day just around the corner, it’s time for employers and employees to think about managing heat on the job. The potential health risks of summer hear raise serious questions, including:

 

  • How hot is too hot at work?
  • What should an employer do when it gets too hot for employees at work?
  • What resources are available to help employers assist employees to deal with excessive heat?

 

Although Massachusetts has guidelines on what it means to be too cold in the workplace, it has none about what is too hot. Many employers are left to their own common sense and experience to determine what to do during the dog days of July and August.

 

We’re having a heat wave

 

To help prepare for the eventual heat wave(s) this summer, we’ve included some tools and resources below to help you plan for, and respond to, the potential dangers of excessive heat.  

 

  • According to the National Weather Service heat is the number one weather-related killer of people in the United States. The effects of heat cause an average of more than 100 people to die per year. More people die per year from heat-related illness than from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.
  • Heat waves occur across the United States, but are often predicted in advance by the National Weather Service, which offers employers the opportunity to prepare.  Relying on the National Weather Service (www.weather.gov) web site will allow an employer the opportunity to plan for the possible impact in its organization.

 

Hot Town, Summer in the City

 

If a company has a workplace that is open to the weather, such as a loading dock, a warehouse, a construction site, an outdoor deck or patio for food service, an outdoor exercise area or some other non-air conditioned site, the company needs to be alert for heat-related disorders.

 

Heat disorders generally occur when the body is unable to remove heat by sweating, or sweats too much. When heat gain exceeds what the body can deal with, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the body’s inner core temperature begins to rise, and heat-related illness may develop.

 

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness. It happens when the body is unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, red hot dry skin and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death.   

 

If heat stroke happens, the following steps may save the workers life:

 

  • place worker in a shady, cool area,
  • loosen clothing,
  • remove outer clothing,
  • fan air on worker;
  • place cold packs in armpits,
  • wet worker with cool water;
  • apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available,
  • provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible, and
  • stay with the worker until help arrives.
  • Call 911.  

 

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, light headedness and heavy sweating. Have the worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area, drink plenty of water or other cool beverages, and apply cold compresses/ice packs. Take the employee to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes and do not have the worker return to work that day.

 

Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours. In response to heat cramps, have the worker rest in shady, cool area, drink water or other cool beverages, wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work, and have the worker seek medical attention if cramps don't go away.

 

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments. If an employee develops heat rash, try to have the worker work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible and keep the affected area dry. 

 

Apps can help

 

OSHA has developed an App to help employers determine the risk to employees from the heat. The app allows employers to calculate the heat index for their worksites, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers.

 

You can then get reminders about the measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness, including drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training workers on heat illness signs and symptoms.

 

More resources are available in English and Spanish on OSHA’s Web site. OSHA also has a fact sheet on working outdoors in hot conditions.

 

OSHA is also partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to incorporate worker safety precautions when heat alerts are issued across the nation. NOAA includes worker safety information on its heat watch web page. For questions, call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit www.osha.gov to learn more about its resources for dealing with the heat

 

What Can an Employer Do to Reduce Heat Danger?

 

Encourage employees to adopt some of the following health tips to manage their possible reaction to the heat.  Education, planning and reacting to the conditions will assure safety during the hot events of summer.

 

  • Find ways to allow your employees to slow down. If possible, limit strenuous activities to the coolest time of the day, perhaps first thing in the morning or when the sun is not directly on your worksite.  Consider extending break periods or adding a break period to ease the heat risk during certain days. Or if possible, adjusting the work schedule to avoid the hot hours of the day.
  • Dress appropriately for summer. Lightweight light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps a body maintain its normal temperature.
  • Encourage employees to drink plenty of water or other non-alcohol fluids even if they may not feel thirsty - their body needs water to keep cool.  Consider purchasing bottles of water and sports drinks to ensure hydration.
  • Allow employees to spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned places. If the workplace doesn’t allow for air conditioning, consider fans to keep the air circulating and encourage employees to work in the shade if possible. 
  • Remind employees that diet matters. The heavier the meal, the more a body works to digest it and the greater the water loss, causing a greater risk of heat problems.
  • Teamwork - make sure your employees watch out for one another. If they recognize a co-worker looks to be suffering with the heat, depending on the symptoms urge them call 911, their supervisor, the company safety officer or HR to get help.

 

If you have other strategies that have worked at your company and would like to share them with other AIM members, please forward the idea to tjones@aimhrsolutions.com.

 

Members with questions about this or other HR-related issues may contact the AIM Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.

 

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