The middle of summer is the perfect time to focus on one of the most overlooked aspects of occupational safety: heat protection. Employees in many industries work in extreme heat, sometimes for several hours at a time. In many cases, individuals wear heavy protective gear when working in these hostile environments, which increases the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries. Employers can help protect their workforce by providing comprehensive heat safety training along with appropriate personal protective gear (PPE).
Risks of working in extreme heat
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, work-related heat exposure affects millions of U.S. employees. In 2019, there were 43 occupational fatalities caused by environmental heat exposure. Between 2011 and 2019, there were 344 occupational deaths due to heat exposure.
Working in a hot environment can often lead to heat stress, which happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its internal temperature. Heat stress can cause cramps, exhaustion, rashes and heat stoke. Other common heat-related injuries and illnesses include burns, nausea and dizziness.
One of the most common causes of heat-related deaths is a lack of acclimatization. The human body can build up a tolerance to heat, but it takes time. When an individual isn’t given time to acclimate, severe illness or death can occur. Between 50% and 70% of outdoor heat-related fatalities occur in the first few days of working in a hot environment.
In early 2022, OSHA implemented a National Emphasis Program focused on heat-related hazards. This program is designed to encourage employers to proactively implement preventative measures, such as hydration, rest, training and acclimatization.
Essential heat training topics
Heat-related illness often occurs because managers or workers don’t know the contributing factors or signs of heat stress. A comprehensive training program should cover common risk factors and preventative solutions and provide clear, practical steps for identifying and addressing heat stress.
- Policies and regulations: Ensure that safety protocols reflect current OSHA guidelines, and provide workers with water, PPE and enough time to acclimate to hot environments.
- Conditions that increase heat risk: There are two main factors of heat-related illness: environmental heat and metabolic heat. Hot outdoor weather or indoor conditions are examples of environmental heat. Metabolic heat refers to the warmth that the body generates during physical activity. Preventative measures must address both causes.
- Warning signs of heat illness: Ensure all employees know the common signs of heat stress: profuse sweating, headache, nausea, muscle cramps, rash, confusion, dizziness, high body temperature and hot, dry skin. Encourage them to be vigilant in monitoring themselves and their coworkers. Provide clear instructions for reporting an unsafe environment or heat-related medical emergency.
- Heat safety tips: Encourage workers to protect themselves from heat by staying hydrated, wearing light-colored breathable clothing and taking frequent breaks.
Organizations can further mitigate the risk of heat-related issues by training workers in heat-related first aid procedures.
Protect your employees from heat-related illnesses
Extreme heat can be an issue for employees in many industries. Whether indoors or outside, hot environments can cause several physical health issues, including heat stroke, burns and dehydration. It’s imperative for organizations to make sure their workers are prepared to work as safely as possible in hot environments. Additionally, workers must have access to reliable communication tools so they can receive alerts and contact designated authorities in an emergency.
Schools, healthcare institutions and corporations can utilize critical communications tools to keep their people safe. Rave Mobile Safety offers several cutting-edge solutions that connect employers with their workers during daily operations and crisis situations. Managers can use our multichannel mass notification system to warn employees of severe weather, including heat waves. They can send additional alerts to notify employees of operational schedule changes or to remind them of safety tips for working in the heat.
Employees at all levels must have access to reliable communication tools. Rave Mobile Safety’s mobile panic button app immediately connects the user with internal security and 9-1-1, ensuring that employees can get help as quickly as possible. Additionally, two-way communication features, such as status checks and polls, allow managers to monitor their employees’ safety and morale. To learn more about protecting your workforce with our communication systems, contact our team.