Employers Take Note: Heat Illness Risk Reduction
California law requires that employers address workplace hazards in order to protect their employees. With recent temperatures and humidity soaring, it is important that employers take special precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses from occurring.
In a recent blog post, Dr. Ben Faber shared tips to help lower the risk of heat illness for employees who work outdoors. It is important for employers to be vigilant during heat and humidity advisories and account for all employees during and after their shift. He notes that heat illness is caused by a number of factors besides high temperatures or humidity, including exposure to sun or radiant heat sources, workload, lack of air flow, age, weight, fitness, medical conditions and use of medications or alcohol.
Below is a synopsis of his directives concerning heat illness risk reduction.
1. Be cognizant of hazardous heat conditions. Heat illnesses aren’t limited to days when temperatures are extremely high (90˚ and above); even a 70˚F day with high relative humidity can lead to hazardous working conditions. Relative humidity levels of 20 – 40 percent are worth paying attention to as temperatures near 80˚F.
2. Provide ample water. Employees should consume 3 – 4 glasses of water per hour and hydrate before a shift. Employers must provide two or more gallons per worker for an eight-hour day. It’s also important to encourage employees to drink water, even if they don’t feel thirsty.
3. Provide shade. Allow employees to work in the shade as much as possible. Shaded areas should be available for breaks. Wide brimmed hats also help alleviate the impact of direct sun.
4. Offer frequent rest breaks. Allow employees to rest in the shade and encourage them to drink water during the break. Heat illness is a result of the body being unable to dissipate heat; by providing breaks and water, employers allow workers to cool down.
5. People need to acclimatize to the heat. Employees doing very heavy work under very hot conditions need to acclimatize over a period of 4 – 10 days, starting in two-hour increments. Employees who have recently been ill or recently moved from a cooler climate also will need to acclimatize.
6. Provide heat illness training. Supervisors and employees should be made aware of heat illness symptoms, preventive measures, the importance of hydrating, the need for breaks in the shade and when — and how — to seek medical attention.
7. Be certain people understand the importance of medical attention. Early heat illness symptoms include: headaches, muscle cramps and excessive fatigue. More serious symptoms — that require immediate medical attention — include: unusual behavior, nausea, vomiting weakness, rapid pulse, excessive sweating, hot and dry skin, seizures, fainting and loss of consciousness. Dr. Faber cautions that employees with these symptoms should not be sent home or left unattended and that 911 should be called if medical service is not available on site.