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Stay out of the Hot Seat This Summer

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This summer is shaping up to be a hot one, and employers across the U.S. could be sweating some OSHA fines. Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure; some even die. Are you sure your company is staying out of the hot seat by following OSHA requirements for heat illness prevention this summer?

OSHA compliance officers could be handing out fines under the  General Duty Clause to employers who fail to protect their employees from heat illness. Under that clause, employers are required to provide their employees with a workplace that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”

According to OSHA, the following factors could put workers at greater risk of heat-related illness:

  • Environmental Factors: These include:
    • high temperature and humidity,
    • radiant heat sources,
    • contact with hot objects,
    • direct sun exposure with no shade, and
    • limited air movement, including no breeze, wind, or ventilation;
  • Job-Specific Factors: These include:
    • physical exertion, and
    • use of bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment; and
  • Personal Factors: These include:
    • lack of built-up tolerance to heat, especially for new workers or those returning from time away, and
    • certain health conditions.

There are ways to prevent heat illness. Use of engineering controls, such as air conditioning and ventilation, can make the work environment cooler. Work practices, such as work/rest cycles, drinking water often, and providing an opportunity for workers to build up a level of tolerance to heat, are also useful in preventing heat-related illness. Finally, training workers on the symptoms of heat-related illness and the prevention steps in use at the worksite will help to reduce the chances of experiencing heat illness this summer.

Here is a helpful image from the National Weather Service regarding two types of heat illness:

Although federal OSHA does not have a specific heat-illness prevention standard at this time, some states with their own OSHA plans, including California and Washington, do have specific regulations. If your company operates in a State Plan state, consult your state’s Occupational Safety and Health administration for specific requirements.

For more information on heat illness, its signs and symptoms, first aid for heat-related illnesses, and tips for preventing heat illness at work, see one of  Mancomm’s many training products.

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