The summer heat is in full force and every year dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat and/or humid conditions. The construction industry is the occupation that is the most affected by the summer heat accounting for more than 40% of heat-related worker deaths. However, workers in every field are vulnerable to heat related illness, injury, or death. In 2011, OSHA launched a Heat Illness Prevention campaign which educates employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. OSHA, through training sessions, outreach events, informational sessions, publications, social media messaging and media appearances have informed millions of workers and employers on how to protect from the extreme heat on the job. OSHA’s safety message comes down to 3 key words: Water. Rest. Shade.
The reason the heat is so dangerous to workers is because when you’re working in a hot environment, the body must work harder than normal to get rid of the excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. This is mainly done through circulating blood to the skin and through sweating. If the fluids and salts that are lost are not adequately replaced it results in dehydration. If the body is unable to remove the excess heat, it will be forced to store it. If the body starts storing heat it will raise the body’s core temperature and the heart rate will increase. The worker will then begin to lose concentration, have difficulty focusing on the work, and may become irritable or sick. The next stage will often be fainting and even death if the person is does not cool down.
Dangers of Working in the Heat
- Fatiguing quicker than normal/ heat exhaustion
- Severe sunburn
- Heat stroke
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat cramps
- Heat rashes.
- Increase in the risk of injuries in workers as because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, disorientation and dizziness.
- Burns from accidental contact with hot surfaces
Employer Responsibility to Protect Workers
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.
- Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
- Engineering controls, such as air conditioning, fans, and ventilation, that make the work environment cooler
- Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they adjust, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
- Monitor workers for signs of illness.