Summer in Arizona means only one thing — temperatures are on the rise. Working outdoors in the summer heat without proper precautions can be excruciating, and oftentimes, life-threatening. Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some even die. Yet, we rely on outdoor workers in the construction, agriculture, transportation and emergency response industries all year long.
How can you safeguard your employees’ health and well-being while still getting the job done? With this being designated Arizona Heat Awareness Week (May 28 – June 1), here are some things employers may want to keep in mind about this seasonal topic.
Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. In Arizona, where there are approximately 110 days above 100 degrees, employers need to be even more vigilant in their education, training, planning and response to occupational heat exposure.
Generally, there are three kinds of major heat-related illness an employee may experience: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. More than 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, but employees in every field are susceptible. However, with proper training and prevention, these illnesses and deaths are preventable.
According to OSHA, employers need to know the factors that put their workers at risk in summer weather. Some of these are environmental such as high temperature and humidity, direct sun exposure and limited air movement. Other factors are job-specific, such as physical exertion and the use of bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment.
Workers who are suddenly exposed to working in a hot environment face additional, but generally avoidable, hazards to their health and safety. New workers and those returning from time away are especially vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to prepare for the heat: educate workers about the dangers of heat and acclimatize workers by gradually increasing the workload or providing more frequent breaks to help new workers and those returning to a job after time away build up a tolerance for hot conditions.
Employers should also be familiar with a standard list of factors to know if it’s too hot for outdoor work. When the temperature rises, humidity increases, the sun gets stronger, there is no air movement, no controls are in place to reduce the impacts of equipment that radiates heat, protective clothing or gear is worn or work is strenuous, it may be time to check the heat index to alert your outdoor workers. The heat index is a useful guide for employers to determine if extra precautions are needed at a job site.
Above all, prevention strategies are the most effective way for employers to keep their employees safe during hot weather. Implementing work practices such as work/rest cycles in cool shade, drinking water often and acclimation are imperative. Work site training and communication plans are also key. Be familiar and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do because acting quickly can save lives.
Employers can’t control the weather, but they can and should be an advocate to keep workers safe in high heat. In Arizona, it’s a job requirement.
For more information, refer to CopperPoint Insurance Companies’ overview on heat exhaustion.
CopperPoint Insurance Companies offer coverages to ensure peace of mind to business owners, their employees and customers. To learn more about CopperPoint commercial coverage, such as employment practices liability (EPLI), cyber and general liability, or workers’ compensation insurance, visit copperpoint.com.