Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The heat is on: Stress worker safety in the summer sun

Summer doesn’t officially start until June 21, but people living in the central plains are feeling the heat, with temperatures already hitting the 90s in some spots.

As the heat index begins to rise across the U.S., it also raises special safety concerns for anyone working outdoors or in confined spaces with little to no air conditioning.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that all employers provide a safe working environment for employees, including keeping workers safe in the summer heat.

Before the summer months get into full swing, employees should be trained on how to prevent and recognize heat-related illness when temperatures and humidity are high. Proper training will ensure that employees have the information they need to keep themselves and their coworkers safe when it’s sweltering outside.

Protect employees from the dangers of heat stroke and heat-related illness by following these guidelines:
  • Train employees on the dangers of extreme heat and promote awareness with workplace safety posters and heat exposure hand-outs.

  • Educate employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention. Ensure your safety training includes topics on how to prevent heat illness, common symptoms of heat stroke, and how to respond if a coworker is showing symptoms, including:

    • High body temperature
    • Absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin
    • Rapid pulse
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Strange behavior
    • Confusion
    • Agitation
    • Disorientation
    • Seizure

  • Keep ample amounts of drinking water readily available for workers throughout the day. Encourage employees working outdoors to stay hydrated and take frequent water breaks.

  • Allow workers to take regular cool-down breaks in shaded areas. Outdoor workers should rest for at least five minutes when they begin to feel overheated.

  • Encourage workers to wear hats and clothing that is light-colored, lightweight and breathable.

  • Line managers and supervisors must be prepared to respond in an emergency situation. Ensure they have access to a working telephone and know to call 911 for help.

OSHA has devoted an entire section of its Web site to preventing and keeping workers safe from heat stress. Learn more about OSHA standards related to heat stress hazards here.

Summer will be here soon. Prepare your team now, before the temperature becomes a threat to workplace safety.

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