Legally Speaking: OSHA and Heat Stress

Bob Dunlevey

Bob Dunlevey is an attorney with Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP (www.taftlaw.com). He is well recognized for his counseling and defense of businesses having employment-related issues, including federal and state court litigation and OSHA proceedings, wage-hour compliance, collective bargaining, wrongful discharge defense, and regulatory compliance. He can reached at rdunlevey@taftlaw.com.

August 1, 2017

With summer well underway, don’t be caught ill-prepared for a heat-stress incident and a subsequent visit by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—establish your heat stress program today. Simply telling your employees that it is a hot day and they should take breaks when needed and to drink as much water as necessary will not meet OSHA’s expectations and could very easily result in a citation.

The risk of heat stress depends upon many factors related to the individual employee, and this makes the challenge of making a safe workplace for all employees even more challenging. Risk factors include the employee’s physical condition, the temperature and humidity, clothing worn, the pace of work and how strenuous it may be, exposure
to sun, and environmental conditions such as air movement.

OSHA expects more from employers than merely offering water, rest, and shade. Additional steps to address heat in the workplace need to be taken. OSHA also insists upon:

  1. Implementing an “acclimatization program” for new employees and those who are returning from extended time away, such as vacations or leaves of absence;
  2. Implementing a work/rest schedule; and
  3. Providing a climate-controlled area for cool down.

For those employers utilizing temporary employees, there is a greater risk of heat-related illnesses, and OSHA urges greater care in adopting an acclimatization program for them.

Your heat stress program can have many components, including:

  • Training

    • Hazards of stress;
    • Responsibility to avoid heat stress;
    • Recognition of danger signs/symptoms (because employees may not recognize their own);
    • First aid procedure; and
    • Effects of certain medications in hot environments.
  • Personal Protective Clothing/Equipment

    • Light summer clothing, which allows free movement and sweat evaporation;
    • Loosely worn reflective clothing to deflect heat; and
    • Cooling vests and wetted clothing for special circumstances.
  • Administrative/Engineering Controls

    • Assess the demands of all jobs and have monitoring and control strategies in place for hot days and hot workplaces;
    • Schedule hot jobs for cooler parts of the day;
    • Reduce physical demands;
    • Permit employees to take intermittent rest breaks with water breaks and use relief workers;
    • Have air conditioning and shaded areas available for breaks/rest periods with ice available;
    • Increase air movement; and
    • Exhaust hot air and steam.
  • Health Screening/Acclimatization

    • Let employees get used to hot working conditions by using a staggered approach over several days, such as beginning work with 50% of the normal workload and time spent in the hot environment and then generally increase it over 5 days.
    • Make employees aware that alcohol abuse and certain medications, such as diuretics, anti-hypertensives (blood pressure), and anticholinergics (pulmonary disease—COPD), can exacerbate problems.

OSHA is also inclined to cite an employer if prompt remedial action is not taken when an employee falls victim to heat stress. Establish specific procedures for heat-related emergencies and provisions for first aid when symptoms appear. Remember, employees may resist first aid because of the confusion caused by their heat stress. Training on the signs and symptoms is also encouraged.

 

 

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