Heat Stress Management: Advice for Employers

August 9, 2018

preventing heat illness among employeesHeat stress management should be an essential piece of your employee safety program. (If you don’t already have a safety program/manual, we can help you create one. Just contact our business insurance team.) Unfortunately, with the warmer weather comes an increased risk for heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke, especially among outside workers like construction crews, landscapers, arborists, etc. “Back of the house” restaurant employees may also be at greater risk this time of year.

According to BLS data, heat exposure killed 37 workers in 2015 and seriously injured another 2,800.  As a business owner or manager, you may encourage “plenty of water,” rest, and shade, but it makes sense to turn these recommendations into formal business policy.

In fact, per OSHA law, employers have a duty to protect their workers through heat stress management. Heat stress management involves educating and training employees on how to avoid dangerous situations, how to mitigate the effects of extreme heat, how to recognize signs of heat illness, and how to respond in the event of over exposure. Ideally, these items should be outlined in a company-issued Heat Illness Prevention Plan.  If your company doesn’t already have one in place, give us a call: 508.339.2951, or contact our business insurance team via online form.

Step 1: Understand the Heat Index

Step 2: Implement a Heat Stress Management Plan

When it comes to drafting and distributing a Heat Safety plan, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of great templates already available. Our Massachusetts business insurance team is happy to help you create one. Meanwhile, here is an excerpt on preventative measures taken from OSHA:

Less than 91°F (Caution): Basic heat safety and planning

  • Provide water
  • Ensure that adequate medical services are available
  • Encourage workers to wear sunscreen

91°F to 103°F (Moderate): Implement precautions and heighten awareness

In addition to the steps listed above:

  • Remind workers to drink water frequently (4 cups/hour)
  • Review heat-related illness topics with workers: recognizing heat-related illness, prevention, what to do if someone gets sick
  • Schedule frequent breaks in cool, shaded area
  • Have supervisors monitor workers for signs of heat-related illness
  • Schedule activities at a time when the heat index is lower
  • Establish and enforce work/rest schedules

103°F to 115°F (High): Additional precautions to protect workers

In addition to the steps listed above:

  • Alert workers of high risk conditions
  • Limit physical exertion
  • Adjust work activities (e.g., reschedule work, pace/rotate jobs)
  • Watch/communicate with workers at all times

Greater than 115°F (Very High to Extreme): Triggers even more aggressive protective measures

  • Reschedule non-essential activity to a time when the heat index is lower
  • Move essential work tasks to the coolest part of the work shift; consider earlier start times or night shifts.
  • If essential work must be done, in addition to the steps listed above:
    • Establish & strictly enforce water drinking schedule (about 4 cups/hour)
    • Conduct physiological monitoring (e.g., pulse, temperature, etc)
    • Stop work if essential control methods are inadequate or unavailable.

Step 3: Know the Signs of Heat Illness & What Actions to Take

Unfortunately, even with heat stress management policies in place, heat illness is still a possibility. Here are some common symptoms and advice on how to handle heat-related emergencies, as explained by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.