How to Address Workplace Heat Hazards
As the weather warms up, heat hazards become a significant concern for many workplaces. However, it is not always about the weather; many workplaces become hot from equipment usage and other environmental factors.
While we tend to think of hot outdoor summer jobs when it comes to heat risks, heat-related illnesses can happen year-round, both indoors and outdoors. Workplaces must address heat hazards to protect worker health and safety.
Here’s what you need to know about heat risks on the job and strategies to reduce them.
What are Workplace Heat Hazards?
Workplace heat hazards refer to unsafe environmental conditions that can lead to heat-related illness, injuries or even death. This includes both indoor and outdoor heat exposure from sources like:
- High air temperatures
- Radiant heat sources (e.g., the sun, machinery)
- Humid conditions reduce the body’s ability to cool through sweating.
- Exertional activities that raise body heat
Prolonged exposure to hot conditions causes the body’s core temperature to rise. When the body can’t properly cool itself, heat-related illness can occur. Heat stress ranges from minor symptoms like headache and nausea to severe conditions like heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs.
Heat hazards tend to be more severe in already hot environments. But heat illness can happen even in temperate weather if heat sources are strong enough and precautions aren’t taken.
Workplace Heat Hazard Regulations
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has standards regarding workplace heat exposure for both indoor and outdoor environments. Key requirements include:
- Providing potable drinking water
- Promoting heat illness awareness and prevention
- Establishing procedures for addressing signs of heat-related illness
- Allowing adequate rest breaks in cool areas
- Monitoring wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) for scorching environments
- Acclimatizing workers and controlling exertion levels when WBGT exceeds safe limits.
State standards may include additional protections like maximum exposure times and mandatory cool-down rests. Employers should be familiar with all relevant federal and state regulations in their jurisdiction.
Assessing Workplace Heat Risks
A heat hazard assessment helps identify potential sources of dangerous heat exposure and who may be most vulnerable. Consider:
- Environmental factors like air temperature, humidity, ventilation, and radiant heat sources
- Level of physical exertion required by the job.
- Use of protective clothing or gear that can trap heat near the body.
- Employees with health conditions or other individual risk factors
- Parts of the facility may be hotter than others.
Monitoring with a WBGT meter, wet bulb thermometer or heat stress monitor provides objective data to quantify risks. Assessment should be ongoing since heat hazards depend strongly on current weather.
Engineering and Administrative Controls
The most effective ways to reduce heat exposure are engineering and administrative controls. Engineering controls physically alter the workspace to decrease heat levels or isolate workers from hot zones. Examples include:
- Improved ventilation and air conditioning
- Window shades to block solar radiation.
- Shielding around radiant heat sources like furnaces
- Cooling fans and misting systems
- Reducing physical exertion through mechanical aids
Administrative controls change workplace policies and practices to limit heat exposure. This can involve:
- Scheduling hot jobs earlier or later in the day
- Adding extra breaks for cooling off and hydration
- Rotating staff through hot areas to limit exposure times.
- Modifying work/rest cycles and pacing for heat
- Planning major hot tasks around cooler days or seasons
- Cancelling outdoor work during heat waves or advisories
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should not be the sole control for heat stress. However, it can provide additional protection when engineering and administrative controls are not fully capable of eliminating heat illness risk. Useful PPE includes:
- Breathable, light-colored clothing reflects heat and allows evaporative cooling.
- Cooling vests with ice packs or chilled water circulation
- Water-dampened clothing that maximizes evaporative cooling.
- Head cooling bands and hard hat liners
- Tinted safety glasses to block radiant energy.
- Sunscreen to avoid added heat from sunburn.
Training and Preparedness
Worker training helps ensure heat hazards are recognized and addressed appropriately on the individual level. Employees should be educated on the following:
- Risk factors for heat stress
- Early symptoms of developing heat illness
- Preventive measures like hydration and rest breaks
- First aid response if signs of heat stroke are observed.
- Proper use of any provided PPE
Emergency planning should cover how to handle heat-related illness events, including first aid, calling for medical assistance and transporting victims to cool rest areas. Response capabilities should be tested and reviewed regularly, especially before hot seasons.
Proactively Managing Workplace Heat
With proper hazard assessment, controls, training and emergency planning, employers can reduce the likelihood of dangerously hot conditions taking workers by surprise. Pay close attention to weather forecasts so extra preparations can be made before heat waves. Be ready to modify operations or reschedule outdoor work if extreme heat is expected.
By making worker safety from excessive heat exposure a clear priority, companies can help ensure their team stays healthy, avoids lost time injuries, and remains productive even during the hottest days of the year.
Contact a health and safety specialist Atlantic Environmental to assess your workplace heat hazards and develop a customized risk management plan. With a proactive approach, you can keep your workers safe while minimizing disruptions to your business.