For many, the start of summer means pool time and popsicles. But for construction employees, it means triple-digit heat, and the dangers that come with it. Over the past ten years, there have been an average of 36 deaths and 2,810 heat-related illnesses each year. Under the OSHA Act, employers are required to protect employees from potential dangers on the job, including the heat. How well you protect them could mean the difference between life and death.
In 2011, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) launched a campaign called “Water, Rest, Shade,” urging employers and employees to take part in prevention against heat-related illnesses. In this campaign, OSHA also outlines the specific responsibilities the employer has to their employees in completing a heat illness prevention program.
- Providing employees with water, rest, and shade
- Planning for emergencies and training employees on prevention
- Allowing returning or new employees to gradually take on heavier workloads
- Monitoring employees for signs of illness
Educate Your Employees on Prevention
Education and prevention starts with you, but your employees also need to understand how to protect themselves from the heat and know when it’s time to take a break.
- Water: Have potable drinking water on or near the site. Direct employees to take small, frequent sips.
- Avoid diuretics: Drinks such as coffee, sodas, and alcohol will cause employees to become dehydrated. Stick to water or sports drinks with electrolytes.
- Take breaks: It seems obvious, but taking breaks in the shade helps to keep body temperature down.
- Use precaution with heavy clothing: For employees who must wear heavy clothing a and masks, use ice packs, dry ice, or special ventilation hoses to keep the inside of their uniforms cool.
- Know the signs: Know the warning signs of heat-related illnesses listed above.
Look Out for New Employees
New employees are especially susceptible to heat-related illnesses. In 2005, Cal/OSHA investigated 25 incidents of heat-related illness. In almost half of the cases, it was the injured employees’ first day of work. In 80% of the cases, employees had only been on the job for four or fewer days. If it’s an employees’ first week on the job, make sure they’ve had the right heat prevention training and understand what it takes to stay protected. It is recommended that you start them out doing only 50% of their workload, and then gradually give them more throughout the week. You have a responsibility to your employees. Encourage a positive safety culture, where everyone knows the signs and looks out for each other. Happy summer, and remember: “Water. Rest. Shade.”