Beat the Heat- Take Steps to Prevent Heat Illness

May 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

This year’s summer work season will ramp up soon. Employers with outdoor workplaces must remember their obligation to prevent heat illness. California’s heat illness regulations require employers to take specific steps to protect employees from heat illness, and employers in certain industries must also follow high-heat procedures when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees.
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) enforces the heat illness regulations (8 CCR sec. 3395). California agencies take a multi-faceted approach to stopping heat illness – including preventative measures, planning and training.
Heat illness is a serious medical condition resulting from the body’s inability to cope with a particular heat load and includes heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (fainting) and heat stroke. Fatalities can result.
California’s heat illness prevention regulations require employers to:
• Provide ready access to plenty of cool, fresh water
• Provide a shaded area for workers to cool down
• Follow high-heat procedures when temperatures reach 95 degrees or higher
• Train workers and supervisors about heat illness and how to prevent it
• Prepare an emergency heat plan and train workers and supervisors on steps to take if someone gets sick
Provide Water
Fresh, cool, potable drinking water must be made available to employees at no cost. If the work area does not have plumbing that continuously provides suitable drinking water, the employer should make sure to provide a sufficient quantity of cool, potable drinking water at all times.
There must be enough suitable water to provide each employee at least one quart per hour for the entire shift. Employers may begin the shift with smaller quantities only if they have effective procedures for replenishment during the shift as needed to allow employees to drink one quart or more per hour.
Employers must encourage employees to drink water frequently.
Provide Shade
When the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, the employer must have and maintain one or more areas of shade at all times when employees are present. The shade must accommodate at least 25 percent of the employees on the shift at any one time, allowing them to sit fully in the shade in a normal posture without touching each other. The shaded area must be located as close as possible to the areas where employees are working.
If the temperature does not exceed 85 degrees, shade must still be available. The employer must provide timely access to shade upon an employee’s request. (The employer could also choose to provide it initially without waiting for the employee to request shade.)
Employees must be allowed and encouraged to take a cool-down rest in the shade for a period of no less than five minutes at a time.
According to Cal/OSHA, areas that could cause exposure to another health or safety hazard are not acceptable shaded areas. Neither are areas underneath mobile equipment, such as tractors, or areas that require crouching to sit fully in the shade.
Follow High-Heat Procedures
When temperatures reach 95 degrees, additional requirements come into play for certain industries.
The industries subject to the high-heat procedures include:
• Agriculture
• Construction
• Landscaping
• Oil and gas extraction
• Transportation and delivery of agricultural products, construction materials or other heavy materials. There is an exemption for employees who perform no loading or unloading duties but who operate an air-conditioned vehicle
High-heat procedures include:
• Ensuring effective communication between employees at the worksite and a supervisor
• Observing employees at the worksite for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness
• Frequently reminding employees to drink plenty of water
• Closely supervising new employees for their first 14 days on the job
These high-heat procedures were created in recognition of the fact that the risks of serious illness rise exponentially with the rising temperature.
Educate Employees and Supervisors
One of the key components of the heat-illness standard is the necessity to provide training to employees who are reasonably expected to be exposed to the risk of heat illness and also to these employees’ supervisors. The training should occur before beginning any work that may lead to such exposure.
The training requirements are specific. Employee training must include:
• The environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, as well as the added burden of heat load on the body caused by exertion, clothing and personal protective equipment
• The employer’s procedures for complying with the requirements of this standard
• The importance of frequent consumption of small quantities of water, up to four cups per hour, when the work environment is hot and employees are likely to sweat more than usual while performing their duties
• The importance of acclimatization. (Acclimatization means the temporary adaptation of the body to work in the heat that occurs gradually when a person is exposed to it.)
• The different types of heat illness and the common signs and symptoms of heat illness
• The importance of immediately reporting to the employer, directly or through the employee’s supervisor, symptoms or signs of heat illness in themselves or in co-workers
• The employer’s procedures for responding to symptoms of possible heat illness, including how emergency medical services will be provided should they become necessary
• The employer’s procedures for contacting emergency medical services and, if necessary, for transporting employees to a point where they can be reached by an emergency medical service provider
• The employer’s procedures for ensuring that in the event of an emergency, clear and precise directions to the work site can and will be provided as needed to emergency responders. These procedures must include designating a person to be available to ensure that emergency procedures are invoked when appropriate.
Additional training requirements exist for supervisors. Employers must also develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA heat illness prevention standard.
Best Practices
Employers who fail to follow the heat illness standard risk potentially endangering their employees and citations from Cal/OSHA, including the possibility of an order to shut down operations.
Employers with outdoor places of employment should:
• Familiarize themselves with the heat illness standard
• Train and educate employees and supervisors on how to recognize, respond to and prevent heat illness
• Instruct supervisors to monitor the weather at the job site and adjust prevention measures accordingly
• Prepare a written heat illness plan and be ready to produce it to Cal/OSHA upon request
• Tailor your plan and procedures to the individual conditions present at your work site
Cal/OSHA provides information on heat illness prevention and conducts outreach and education programs.

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