With summer comes an increased risk of heat-related injuries for workers who spend a lot of time in hot, humid conditions. Managers need to be mindful of the risks that excessive heat can present and take action to provide staff with a season-safe work environment.
Workers who have to spend a lot of time outside are potential victims of some major risks. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, strenuous physical labor such as that performed by maintenance staff is of particular concern. Their activities can raise body temperatures above what the human body is able to manage through sweating, which results in worker safety being at risk. Today's Facility Manager reported that 31 workers died and over 4,000 suffered serious illness as a result of heat in 2012, based on OSHA statistics. The OSHA administration has issued citations to employers who do not provide sufficient weather-safe accommodations for staff.
As a heat-related illness begins it can easily go unnoticed, which makes it particularly dangerous. The Mayo Clinic identified some symptoms to look out for, which you can find here. If workers begin to experience nausea, headache, confusion or heat cramps, these can all be the signs of the beginnings of heat stroke, which is a condition where the body temperature rises to dangerous levels. In this event, preventative measures should be taken immediately.
In an ideal world, workers would be kept out of extreme temperatures if possible. In instances where workers must perform activities in hot, humid conditions, hot-weather policies should be created and enforced. One preventive measure to take is to ensure maintenance staff have ample opportunities to take rest breaks to avoid overheating. Drinking water is very important, and OSHA recommends drinking water every 15 minutes to prevent dehydration, even if you don’t feel thirsty. For multi-day projects in severe temps, the first day should be taken slowly, to allow for acclimatization - building up a steady tolerance to heat - so that work can be performed safely and for longer.
These are just a few things to consider to keep your staff safe in the midst of hot summer weather. OSHA has a Heat Illness Prevention Campaign aimed at raising awareness and providing resources, and you can find that information here.