Good Day Sunshine: OSHA & Heat Index Safety
While it seems like a good day when the summer sun is out, heat is a prominent concern for outdoor workers. In 2011, 4,420 workers experienced heat illnesses and 61 workers died, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Weather Service are teaming up again to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses.
For people working outdoors, both air temperature and humidity affect how hot they feel. The "heat index" is a single value that takes both temperature and humidity into account. The higher the heat index, the hotter the weather feels, since sweat does not readily evaporate and cool the skin. The heat index is a better measure than air temperature alone for estimating the risk to workers from environmental heat sources.
OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in hot environments. Nonetheless, under the OSH Act, employers have a duty to protect workers from recognized serious hazards in the workplace including heat-related hazards. Workers performing strenuous activity, using heavy or non-breathable protective clothing and/or workers new to an outdoor job need additional precautions beyond those warranted by heat index alone.
Beating the Heat
How can the more common forms of heat illness be prevented among your temporary outdoor workers? Remember three simple words: water, rest and shade. Below are additional steps for a safe and cool rest of summer:
- Wear loose, light-colored clothing and a hat
- Avoid overexertion during peak temperature hours
- Drink at least eight ounces of water every 20 to 30 minutes
- Use sunscreen and re-apply throughout the day
- Stay away from drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea or soda) as they can dehydrate you
OSHA has created a mobile app that allows workers and their supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite and display its risk level. The app also issues reminders on heat-illness protection. Employers should include this in worksite trainings and consistently remind workers of heat and sun safety each morning.
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