by JOSEPH FISCO, VP, Director of Safety and Health, First Foundation Insurance Services

Heat Illness Prevention

Extreme heat can put workers health at risk. Fortunately, most cases of heat illness are preventable. Cal/OSHA has put out guidelines to keep your employees safe during times of extreme heat. There are 4 required steps: 

  1. Training
  2. Water
  3. Shade
  4. Planning

Training

Employers are responsible for the well-being of their employees while are work. To keep workers safe from high heat, employees must receive training and understand the company’s procedures. Managers and supervisors who are responsible for implementing the plan will need additional training. 

A key 2006 Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Case Study highlights the key role supervisors play in preventing fatalities due to heat illness. Those who monitored weather reports, enforced of safety procedures, and understood how to react in times of illness were more successful in keeping their employees safe.

Water

Employees must have access to potable water. At least 1 quart (32 oz.) per hours needs to be provided per hour. Managers and supervisors must also encourage employees to drink water. 

The importance of providing water cannot be overstated. The 2006 Cal/OSHA Study showed that although 90% of the work sites had drinking water at the site, 96% of the employees suffering from heat illnesses were dehydrated.  The tendency of employees to be unaware of and/or not respond to their body’s need to hydrate is an unfortunate but preventable cause of heat illness.

By removing any barriers that may exist to access, making the access distance as short as reasonable, and making the water station inviting by using ice and shade, employers can actively facilitate and encourage the frequent drinking of water.

Shade

Employees must have access to shade when temperatures rise above 80º F. Employees should not wait until they feel sick to cool down, and they should be encourages to cool down in the shade for at least 5 minutes. 

Planning & Compliance

Employers must have a written plan and emergency procedures and controls need to be in place to deal with potential incidents. 

The following is an excerpt from the California Code of Regulations: 

(i)    Heat Illness Prevention Plan. The employer shall establish, implement, and maintain, an effective heat illness prevention plan. The plan shall be in writing in both English and the language understood by the majority of the employees and shall be made available at the worksite to employees and to representatives of the Division upon request. 

The Heat Illness Prevention Plan may be included as part of the employer's Illness and Injury Prevention Program required by section 3203, and shall, at a minimum, contain:

(1) Procedures for the provision of water and access to shade.

(2) The high heat procedures referred to in subsection (e).

(3) Emergency Response Procedures in accordance with subsection (f).

(4) Acclimatization methods and procedures in accordance with subsection (g).

Designated employees and supervisors need to be trained and assigned with responsibility to carry out the procedures and controls. Understand that in extreme heat conditions occur when the temperatures equal or exceed 95ºF, additional procedures and controls are needed. 

Best practices call for the following procedures and controls.

Procedures: 

  • Determine a means of effective communication between supervisors and employees.
  • Establish procedures for contacting emergency response services and administering first aid and train employees on them.
  • Monitor for weather events or major changes in temperature throughout the work day. 
  • Establish and maintain communications between employees and supervisors.
  • Close monitoring by supervisors should be supplemented by peer monitoring by employees.
  • If the temperature reaches or exceeds 95°F, additional steps must be taken to monitor employees for water intake and symptoms of heat illness.
  • Closely observe new employees during their first 14 days of employment in high heat areas as they acclimatize.
  • Always staff the work area with at least one person capable of administering first aid.

Controls: 

  • Acclimatize employees by having them work for short periods of time in the heat and gradually increase their time in the heat over a two-week period.
  • Provide shaded areas large enough to accommodate all employees during meal, rest, or recovery periods. This can be achieved through rotation of employee breaks.
  • Locate shaded areas and drinking water as close as feasible to the areas where employees are working. The provision of seating is recommended.
  • Encourage employees to stay in the shaded areas during rest periods.
  • Provide employees with one quart of water minimum per hour for the entirety of shift.
  • If any employee feels the need for protection from overheating, allow a rest period of at least five minutes.
  • Use cooling fans or air-conditioning if possible. 
  • Employees should wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes. 
  • Employees should avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and heavy meals. 

Extreme Heat Conditions:

When temperature equal or exceed 95º F, additional controls are needed. These include: 

  • Institute a mandatory 10-minute break period after every two hours worked.
  • Supervisors must remind employees to rest and drink water.
  • Assure failsafe communication methods between supervisors and employees. Increase the number of supervisors to provide adequate close observation and monitoring of employees.  

Heat Wave Procedures 

Cal/OSHA guidelines: “The employer shall implement high-heat procedures when the temperature equals or exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit”

Initiate your companies high heat procedures:

  • Conduct your tailgate talks prior to the shift beginning.
  • Monitor and REQUIRE that employees drink water & take their breaks.
  • Ensure the proper communication is set up with your employees so you can react quickly if needed to get the appropriate emergency assistance.
  • Get the App – The US Department of Labor provides a location specific app to help you initiate high heat procedures and provides instructions on how to do it. (See link below)