Page 10 - OHS, March 2021
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Protective Measures According to the Heat Index
Heat Index
Less than 91°F
91°F to 103°F
103°F to 115°F
Greater than 115°F
Risk Level
Lower (Caution)
Very High to Extreme
Protective Measures
Basic heat safety and planning
Implement precautions and heighten awareness
Additional precautions and heighten awareness
Triggers even more aggressive protective measures
temperatures and wearing clothing that traps in heat. OSHA lists the industries of agriculture, construction (particularly roofing and roadwork), landscaping, oil and gas well operations and package delivery as highly dangerous outdoor industries when speaking of heat exposure.2 It has been reported that agricultural workers experience about 21 days each year in which the heat index surpasses safety standards.3 The number of these days is expected to increase to 39 by the year 2050. This increase that will happen in the near future is all the more reason for an official heat stress standard that will protect workers. Indoor occupations that have the high chance of heat illness occurrence are kitchens, boiler rooms, furnaces, warehouses and iron and steel mills.
High temperatures are not the sole reason that heat illnesses occur in workers—there are more factors at play that create the perfect storm for heat stress. The humidity and the heat index are key components. Humidity, the amount of moisture in the air, is a critical part of this because high humidity makes it harder for sweat to evaporate and in turn cool a worker’s body down. OSHA defines the heat index as a “single value that takes both temperature and humidity into account.”4 The higher the heat index is, the hotter the temperature will feel. The consideration of both humidity and temperature in the heat index makes it a better indicator of risk level for workers.
What Does OSHA Currently Say About Heat Exposure?
Although OSHA does not have a standard on the aforementioned things for employers to adhere to, there are tips and guidance that have been published by the agency. On a foundational basis, all of OSHA’s literature on heat stress refers back to the General Duty Clause Section 5(a)1 of the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, which states that employers must provide a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”5 It is widely understood that heat stress falls under the umbrella of that statement. Most states, as indicated in a map of state plans on OSHA’s website, apply the General Duty Clause to matters of heat stress in the absence of an official standard.6 There are individual states that have introduced their own statewide heat standards— these include: California, Minnesota, Washington and Maryland.
OSHA’s existing information for employers mostly involves employers taking it upon themselves to create safety plans for their workers to activate/use during times where heat illness is a possibility. There is the Heat Illness Prevention program that was launched by OSHA in 2011, which encouraged the creation of such safety plans through a social media campaign, training sessions and outreach events.7 A key part of OSHA’s messaging starting in this campaign and continuing through to today is for employees to “give workers water, rest and shade.” There is also lengthy messaging on OSHA’s website advising employers of items that should be considered when creating a heat illness prevention plan.8
Additionally, there is a heavy emphasis from OSHA on taking measures to prevent heat stress or illness from happening in the first place.
Heat acclimation. This is the process of building a tolerance to heat. It is significant in preventing the development of heat illness. According to OSHA, 50 to 70 percent of outdoor deaths from heat illness occur within the first couple of days of working in a hot environment because the worker’s body didn’t build a tolerance to the heat.9
Let workers pace themselves. When workers haven’t worked in a particular condition—whether it’s due to being a new hire or returning to work after a significant period of time off—they should start off with a lesser workload then gradually increase it to aid in heat acclimation.
Monitor the heat index. Keeping an eye on the heat index as it changes day to day can be the difference between a safe work day and a tragic heat illness. According to OSHA, working in full sunshine can increase the heat index value by up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It is advised that a plan should be implemented for when the heat index reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more. OSHA has an extensive resource entitled “Using Heat Index to Protect Workers” that can be deferred to, which includes a table that categorizes heat index temperatures based on risk level, along with suggested protective measures to follow for those working in those conditions.10
Buddy system. There should be a trained person at the worksite who is assigned the job of monitoring the heat conditions and how workers on shift are affected by them for the duration of the work day. OSHA says that this person can be “a foreman, jobsite supervisor, plant manager, safety director, or anyone else with the proper training.”11 Proper training can include:
■ ability to identify and control heat hazards
■ knowledge of early identifications of heat stress
■ administering first aid for heat illnesses
■ activating emergency medical services when needed There are some industries where onsite monitoring isn’t an
option. In this event, OSHA says, “the responsible individual at the site should be fully trained on the means and methods to contact and report to the employer any adverse heat related conditions that may develop on the site as well as any signs and symptoms of heat related illness experienced by any of the workers.” There is an app called the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool that can be used by those in charge of heat supervision to estimate the level of danger for strenuous outdoor work on a given day.12
Self-maintenance. OSHA also gives advice on how workers can take care of their own health and safety while working in warm or hot conditions. It is recommended that workers take frequent breaks to avoid becoming overheated, as well as remain hydrated while working with the help of water and sports drinks every 15 to 20 minutes. Employees should also be mindful of pre-existing
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