Urgent Heat Stress Update from OSHA

Today, July 21, 2011, OSHA released a statement regarding methods to protect workers during periods of extreme temperatures and high humidity.  According to OSHA, employers must ensure the safety and health of workers and that does mean incorporating methods to safeguard workers from heat. (While reading you can jam to a little Glenn Fry, “The Heat is On” with the video above…)

Under the General Duty Clause, all employers must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. Hot temperatures and high humidity are “recognized” hazards. In fact, heat stress is a noted “industrial illness” that is also considered a 300 Log recordable event.  If a fatality occurs due to heat or three or more individuals are hospitalized for heat illness at the same time, heat stress can also qualifty as a “reportable” event. However, states with their own “state plans” or state-led OSHA departments can adopt more stringent rules which may affect reporting. Always check with your state’s regulations. [Note: This is to correct a typo that appeared in the earlier version of this article]

In addition to the moral and fiscal implications regarding worker safety, under the provisions of the General Duty Clause, employers can be subject to penalties for failing to apply appropriate protective measures.

If you are wondering what heat stress prevention entails, you can take a peek at the full OSHA statement here. The condensed version of this info, I’ve included below:

Employers must take the precautions needed to protect outdoor workers:

•Have a work site plan to prevent heat-related illnesses and make sure that medical services are available to respond to an emergency should one occur.

•Provide plenty of water at the job site and remind workers to drink small amounts of water frequently – every 15 minutes.

•Schedule rest breaks throughout the work shift and provide shaded or air conditioned rest areas near the work site.

•Let new workers get used to the extreme heat, gradually increasing the work load over a week.

•When possible, schedule heavy tasks for earlier in the day.

Tell workers what to look for to spot the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in themselves and their co-workers, and make sure they know what to do in an emergency.

To begin implementing a Heat Stress Prevention Program, employers should evaluate the worksite carefully and consider factors such as humidity, hours of direct sunlight, air current and amount of physical exertion required to perform work in hot environments.  The physical burden of required personal protective equipment must be considered. The heat stress prevention program should be in writing, though it does not have to be lengthy or excessively detailed.

A well-functioning heat stress prevention program includes the following components:

  • Specific control methods: Employers should create policies that address control methods such as mandated breaks, measures to lighten physical burden during heat, ventilation, acclimatization procedures, and fluid replacement intake.  
  • Training: At the minimum, training should include explanation of hazards related to heat stress, first aid procedures and recognition of symptoms and methods employees can take to avoid heat illnesses. However, a more comprehensive training is recommended and should include a broad range of pro-active measures.
  • Acclimatization: The process of adapting to environmental extremes (or acclimatization) is a vital component of heat stress prevention. The intensity, frequency, duration and quantity of previous heat exposures an individual has experienced greatly influences the present physiological strain and resistance to heat.  NIOSH has developed an industry accepted standard that addresses slow introduction of hot working environments to the employees. Employers should have a written acclimatization program for workers new to heat extremes and those with previous experience working in heat.
  • Hydration Policies: The heat stress prevention program should also mandate hydration to be provided regularly and in specific amounts. Guidelines from OSHA and the CDC recommend 6 to 8 ounces of cool water to be provided to workers every 15 to 20 minutes. Adequate supplies of non-caffeinated liquid should be readily available for workers at all times.
  • Responsible Persons: So that your program is appropriately carried out, designated workers, managers or supervisors should be named, with their responsiblities. For example, who do employees report to if they are experiencing heat stress? What individual is responsible for providing water and beverages in the workplace? Who monitors the weather to activate the plan? Who supervises the acclimatization processes? These questions should be addressed in the plan. Make this a written part of the program!!

NOTE: Workers should be aware of all components of the heat stress prevention program. In some states, such as California, Heat Stress Prevention Programs are mandated and follow specific guidelines. Always check your state’s guidelines before addressing any compliance arenas.

Helpful Resouces for Creating a Heat Stress Prevention Program:

http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/dosh_publications/ESPHIP.pdf

http://www.ehs.ufl.edu/General/heatstrs.pdf

And you can check under the “Heat Stress” Category here in the right margin for additional info

Just a brief disclaimer: Nothing here on this site constitutes legal or medical advice. There are countless variables that affect the workplace and while I (or other safety professionals) can offer general information, you’ll need on site assistance from a credible expert to fill in the gaps.

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