When the thunderstorms and lightning discussed in Part 1 of this series don’t come cool things off, we are left with the opposing condition—unyielding heat (and sometimes with that high humidity). These two factors are responsible for thousands of illnesses and dozens of deaths every year. While more than 40% of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, workers in every field are susceptible to heat illnesses, regardless of age or physical condition. The good news is that heat-related incidents can be prevented.
Heat Sources and Prevention
There are two primary sources for heat for workers:
- Environmental – the external conditions in which work is being done, such as; high temperatures, near radiant heat sources, within a high humidity environment, direct physical contact with hot objects, etc.
- Physical – the internal heat generated by physical labor
Heat-related illnesses occur when the body is not able to lose enough heat to balance the heat generated by physical work and external heat sources.
Important ways to reduce heat exposure and the risk of heat-related illness include engineering controls, such as air conditioning and ventilation, that can 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.
Training employees to recognize the common signs and symptoms of heat related illness will go a long way to keeping them and their co-workers safe as well. Several easy things to look for within the environment to determine if there is a cause for concern:
- High outdoor temperatures
- Humidity increases
- The sun gets hotter
- There is little to no air movement
- No controls are in place to reduce the impacts of equipment that radiates heat
- Protective clothing or gear is worn
- Work is strenuous
Another useful tool is the Heat Index, which takes both temperature and humidity into account. It can guide outdoor workers and employers to determine the associated risk level and the protective measures that should be taken when working in hot environments. To make it easy to access this information no matter where you are, OSHA and NIOSH developed an easy-to-use Heat Safety Tool that is available in English and Spanish for Android and iPhone devices. We encourage you to download it and refer to it often when working outside or in high-heat environments.
Not only are workers impacted from heat, but machines are too. The last thing you need is your equipment breaking down due to extreme heat. To ensure uptime instead of costly downtime, be proactive.
On a regular basis:
- Keep your equipment clean, inside and out
- Keep services up to date
- Correctly grease parts as necessary
Before starting work check:
- All fluids are to the correct levels
- Air flow passages are clean so machine can exchange hot air in the engine compartment with cooler air from the outside
While working check:
- The displays on the machine to make sure they are operating properly, especially as the day goes on
- If the machine is not working, try to idle or shut down completely to allow it to cool down between tasks
- If the machine is in a stressed condition, try to find some shade to help it cool down faster
Bottom line, heat poses a real danger for workers and equipment, so plan for an emergency and know what to do — acting quickly can save lives! Remember, Safety through Education is more than just our motto it is our guiding principal. Protecting lives so that they can return to their family and back to work is as important as getting the work done. If you need training related to material handling services, contact us at 800-290-0007.
For more on this topic, visit the following resources:
Industry-Specific Resources – Provides links to several resources by industry.
Heat-related Illnesses and First Aid – Highlights information on heat-related illnesses and first aid measures to take if a worker shows signs of a heat-related illness.
Prevention – Provides links to several resources that may assist in preventing heat exposure.
Standards – There are currently no specific OSHA standards for occupational heat exposure. However, Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”