Although no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards cover heat stress, the General Duty Clause protects employees against heat-related illnesses due to the hazard’s serious nature.
While most will readily acknowledge it’s important to keep body temperature stable to prevent heat illness or even death, but many don’t recognize the basic factors involved so they can quickly and readily recognize when heat illness is occurring or, better yet, to prevent it in the first place.
Heat Stress Factors
Two primary sources contribute to overheating: (1) environmental conditions and (2) internal heat generated by physical labor. While each factor may not be present every time, a combination of the two could increase risk.
Since the body cools itself through sweating, air temperature is imperative to maintaining a consistent internal temperature. Sweating does not cool the body unless the skin’s moisture can evaporate. However, if the air temperature is warmer than the skin, the body cannot lose heat, and its ability to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired.
Associated Safety and Health Hazards
Safety hazards tend to occur more frequently in high heat/high humidity environments due to many contributing factors, including sweaty palms, dizziness and fogging of safety glasses. In more extreme cases, mental confusion, tiredness and irritability could cause impaired judgment resulting in safety hazards.
Please be aware of certain health hazards that occur more frequently in high heat/high humidity environments, like heat cramps, fainting, heat rash, heat exhaustion and, most dangerous of all, heat stroke.
Heat illness victims should be treated by providing cool water to drink and moving the person to a cool or shaded area—none of which are easy when working in remote locations. Easy and quick options to combat heat illness is to bring onsite cooling trailers equipped with air conditioning or misting fans and have water stations set up around the facility or worksite.
Creating a Work/Rest Schedule
W When possible, more-frequent, shorter periods of heat exposure are better than fewer, longer exposures. Rest periods do not necessarily mean that workers are on break; these can be productive times. During the rest periods, workers may continue to perform mild or light work such as completing paperwork, sorting small parts, attending a meeting, or receiving training.
Work/rest schedules are often based on 1-hour cycles and might call for a rest period of 15 minutes every hour during hot weather, but 45 minutes per hour when temperature and humidity are extreme. Keep in mind that workers wearing flame-resistant cotton or chemical-resistant suits will experience increased body temperature of approximately 10-degrees more than wearing normal work clothing.
The following table acts as a guideline for creating work/rest schedules for workers, assuming the worker is wearing a chemical-resistant suit, gloves, boots and a respirator:
Tips for Prevention
Preventative tips from OSHA (and their website) and many other organizations are available to workers and employers to protect against heat-related illnesses, including awareness of heat illness symptoms and response, adequately utilizing shaded areas for resting, and drinking plenty of cool water.
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