The White House has designated May 23–27, 2016, as Extreme Heat Week, during which Federal agencies will work with community planners and public health officials to enhance community preparedness for extreme heat events. Workers are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of heat exposure.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness in 2014 in the United States. Eighteen workers died from heat stroke or related causes.
According to the latest NIOSH Science Blog, workers may experience longer or more intense heat exposures and are more likely to engage in strenuous physical activity in the heat than the general public. Also, in many cases workers rely on their employers to provide opportunities for limiting their time in the heat, ensuring adequate rest breaks, and promoting hydration.
As part of the initiative, an OSHA representative will participate in a White House-hosted webinar on May 26 aimed at educating employers and supervisors about how to protect workers from heat illness. The representative will discuss the importance of providing workers with water, rest breaks and shade.
The recently published NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments contains information related to how heat stress affects the body, individual and environmental risk factors, heat-related illnesses, and recommendations to protect workers.
NIOSH recommends that if the total heat stress exceeds the RAL or REL, despite the use of engineering and work practice controls, the employer should provide workers with protective equipment and clothing (e.g., water-cooled garments, air-cooled garments, ice-packet vests, wetted over-garments, and heat-reflective aprons or suits).
The Health Hazard Evaluation Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services received a request from the safety manager at a national park in California, asking NIOSH to evaluate park employees working in extreme heat, review the park’s current and proposed heat stress management policies, and recommend ways to prevent heat-related illnesses.
The program evaluated nine park employees who were working in extreme heat. Some employees had signs of heat strain although none of the nine employees had dehydration, clinically significant muscle breakdown, or heat-related illnesses.
The program recommended scheduling strenuous outdoor work during cooler months, at night, or early in the morning. It also recommend forming a work group of employees, the safety manager, and a physician medical advisor to develop standard operating procedures for self-monitoring when working in the heat, additional training, and changes to the heat stress policy.
OSHA has updated its Heat Safety Tool phone application, which is available for download on iOS and Android devices in English and Spanish. Workers can use the app to calculate the heat index at their worksite and determine heat illness risk levels.
The app includes information for workers to monitor themselves and others for heat illness signs and symptoms. OSHA said it updated the app for iPhones to include full-screen color alerts for all heat conditions, as well as other technical upgrades.
Jules Griggs, CEO and Training Director at Safety Unlimited, Inc., SUN News parent company, says: “Most employers do not understand their requirements for preventing heat illnesses and injuries simply because Fed-OSHA does not have a specific heat regulation like California (https://www.dir.ca.gov/title8/3395.html) does. But the fact is, employers are required to take certain steps such as providing potable water to workers. As a retired firefighter, I can attest to how important preventing heat-related injuries is and applaud this initiative.”