Roughly one-quarter of the U.S. population is currently gripped by a prolonged heat wave that has produced record temperatures in some cities and communities. Thursday, July 20, was the 21st consecutive day of temperatures in Phoenix reaching 110° or more. The previous record streak was 18 straight days of 110° or higher temperatures, set in 1974.
El Paso, Texas, meanwhile, has had more than 30 consecutive days of temperatures reaching 100° or higher. More record or near-record heat is expected in the coming days not only in the southwestern U.S. but also as far north as Idaho and as far east as Florida.
While many individuals in affected regions will take precautions to protect themselves and their families, businesses must be mindful of the potential risks to workers. Heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses represent potentially fatal threats for employees and could lead to costly workers’ compensation claims for employers. While employers of all types are at risk, the threat is especially acute for industries in which significant amounts of work are done outdoors.
Employers can help to mitigate this risk by developing heat illness prevention plans, which should be shared with managers. To limit potential heat-related illnesses, employers should focus on providing sufficient rest, shade and fluids to employers and implementing engineering and administration controls designed to reduce heat stress.
Among other items, health illness prevention plans should:
Identify who within the organization will be responsible for daily oversight regarding heat-related issues. In many cases, this will be a member of the organization’s environmental, health and safety team.
Catalog extra precautions that should be taken to protect new and temporary workers as well as any who are not acclimated to high temperatures. Nearly three-quarters of all heat illness fatalities occur during an employee’s first week of work, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
Address training for both supervisors and workers on how to control and recognize signs of heat stroke, exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses. These may include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, confusion, irritability, nausea, and other symptoms.
Detail actions that managers and/or organizations can take in the event of heat advisories. These may include shortening workdays, providing employees with additional breaks, moving employees to alternate work locations, and making other accommodations.
Identify a process for determining — for each individual worker throughout each workday — whether total heat stress is too high, based on the conditions of that day and accounting for possible carryover effects from previous high-temperature days.
Visit osha.gov for more guidance on mitigating the effects of heat-related illnesses. (opens a new window) And for help in building your own health illness prevention plan, contact a member of your Lockton team.