How To Protect Your Employees From Occupational Heat Exposure
When most people think of occupational heat exposure, outdoor jobs in the summer often come to mind: jobs in construction, farming and landscaping. But heat hazards at work are far more widespread, and can actually be more serious indoors where employees are exposed to heat as a result of jobs in steel foundries and glass facilities, chemical plants and smelters, and even less obvious hot spots like bakeries, laundries, and commercial kitchens and canneries.
As an employer, preventing heat-related illness is your responsibility. You need to not only be aware of the potential heat hazards your employees face, but also have procedures in place for minimizing risks, as well as an emergency plan for handling sudden heat exhaustion or stroke, which can lead to death if immediate medical attention is not sought.
What Are Heat Hazards?
In the simplest terms, hot indoor or outdoor environments, hot humid environments, and direct exposure to hot objects or radiant heat sources. In many industries and professions, exposure to high heat is simply unavoidable.
Preventing Heat-Related Illness
However, most cases of heat-related illness are preventable. Working around heat may be a necessity, but there are factors that can be controlled, including:
- How strenuous a job is
- Whether a worker is working too quickly or overexerting him or herself
- Thick or bulky protective clothing
- Inadequate air circulation or cooling systems
Controlling these environmental and job-specific factors requires having a plan in place to mitigate occupational heat exposure:
- Increase workload gradually and closely monitor employees
- Have mandatory breaks that includes drinking water, and work/rest cycles to avoid overexertion
- Invest in modern PPE that is made of more lightweight, breathable materials
- Install engineering controls (air circulation and cooling fans, air conditioning, dehumidifiers)
Implementing Your Safety Plan
Knowing the heat hazards specific to your business and developing a plan for protecting employees is the first step. Implementing the plan and ensuring every at-risk employee knows how to recognize the signs of a heat-related illness and act quickly is the crucial next step that will require more effort.
It’s not uncommon for employees to be under-informed or even nonchalant about heat hazards. Working in a hot environment, sweating, and breathing heavy are just part of the job in their mind. What they don’t realize is that lifting just five more boxes in a warehouse that’s just two degrees warmer might be all it takes to push them over the edge and succumb to heat exhaustion.
Because the symptoms of heat exhaustion like loss of concentration, lack of interest in water, dizziness, fainting and even death, can come on fast, it’s imperative that employees be able to use their judgment to determine:
- Is the work environment too hot?
- Am I too hot?
- Am I working too hard?
- Do I feel unwell?
If the answer is yes, there must be a process in place that allows employees to slow down or stop work in order to cool down. Many employees are worried about disciplinary action if they stop working, so management needs to make it clear that employee safety is priority number one.
If you’re concerned about occupational heat exposure and need help developing and implementing a safety plan to protect workers from heat-related illness, contact Optimum Safety Management at (630) 759-9908.