With the official start of summer, OSHA is urging employers across the country to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and hazards. While workers in construction, agriculture, and landscaping are often exposed to excessive heat, so are workers in kitchens, foundries, warehouses, and other indoor settings.
Many people are exposed to heat on the job, in both indoor and outdoor heat environments. Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources (e.g., sunlight, hot exhaust), high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness.
Indoor workplaces with hot conditions may include iron and steel foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries, chemical plants, material handling and distribution warehouses, and many other environments.
Outdoor workplaces with work in hot weather and direct sun, such as farm work, construction, oil and gas well operations, landscaping, emergency response operations, and hazardous waste site activities, also increase the risk of heat-related illness in exposed workers.
Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some are fatally injured. These illnesses and fatalities are preventable.
Workers exposed to hot indoor environments or hot and humid conditions outdoors are at risk of heat-related illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment.
Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, or if they have certain health conditions.
Workers who are suddenly exposed to working in a hot environment face additional, but generally avoidable hazards to their safety and health. New workers and those returning from time away are especially vulnerable.
That’s why it is important to prepare for the heat: educate workers about the dangers of heat, and acclimatize workers by gradually increasing the workload or providing more frequent breaks to help new workers and those returning to a job after time away build up a tolerance for hot conditions.
According to OSHA, important ways to reduce heat exposure and the risk of heat-related illness include engineering controls, such as air conditioning and ventilation, that make the work environment cooler, and work practices such as work/rest cycles, drinking water often, and providing an opportunity for workers to build up a level of tolerance to working in the heat.
Employers should include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans.
Also, it’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do — acting quickly can save lives!