By Kevin Kieth, ABC Keystone Director of Safety
OSHA has released a new emphasis program designed to protect workers from heat related illnesses. This is the first time that OSHA has put together a tool to protect workers, whether they are indoors or outdoors, from an environmental exposure to heat. The effects of working in higher temperatures has been studied for several years, and it was evident that some sort of protections would be implemented for this type of exposure.
OSHA has identified high risk industries that need to act, and construction is one on the list. This will require employers to plan ahead to address work schedules, educate employees of the dangers of working in heat and implement a plan of action including the measures to be taken in the event of a worker being overcome.
Heat related hazards exist and are becoming a larger issue as a result of climate changes. Most fatalities that result from working in a warm or hot environment occur in the first few days during the seasonal change from cooler to hot temperatures. Employers must recognize this and consider implementing an acclimatization period for workers. Once acclimatized, the worker is still at risk for injury/illness.
As the summer months progress, workers can become dehydrated if they are not drinking enough water and electrolyte replacement drinks. OSHA’s 29 CFR 1926.51(a)(1) states that employers are to provide potable water in all places of employment. In addition to this regulation, OSHA is asking employers to provide cool drinking water as part of the prevention of heat stress. Employers should also consider identifying break areas that are shaded or air conditioned to allow workers to cool down during hot days.
Employers should have employees download the NIOSH Heat Index App to better identify times of the day of concern and to know the signs and symptoms of the heat related illnesses. There should be a plan of action to take in the event a worker shows signs of illness. This would include a first aid response team and an area designated for cooling a worker, as well as the activation of the site-specific Emergency Action Plan and early activation of EMS. To best assist employers, OSHA has designated a page on the website and it can be found at Heat – Overview: Working in Outdoor and Indoor Heat Environments | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov). It provides guidance on compliance with the new program.
Effective safety requires work that includes planning and good supervision. This new emphasis program may seem like a lot at first, but it is likely something employers have already had in place, but just didn’t have it formalized into a written plan. Training and educating supervisors and workers will go a long way to help prevent heat related illnesses in the workplace. Visit www.abckeystone.org to look at our upcoming education and safety training classes. If you have additional questions regarding your safety policies, please feel free to contact Kevin Keith, Director of Safety, to discuss your concerns or issues.