3. Familiarize yourself with the National Weather Service Heat Index.
The NWS Heat Index is a valuable measurement tool for heat-related workforce risk. The scale ranges from 80º F and 40% humidity (defined as the low end of “Caution”) to 110ºF and 100% humidity (far into “Extreme Danger” territory).
4. Identify heat illness management controls.
The greater the danger on the NWS Heat Index, the more protective measures employers should take. Those measures may include any or all of the following:
- more time for acclimation
- additional safety briefs
- additional water sources
- hydrating snacks and drinks (e.g. popsicles, sports drinks, fruit)
- periodic hydration reminders
- additional shade (e.g. with tents)
- faster job rotation
- mandatory sunscreen applications
- more frequent breaks
- cooling equipment and clothing (e.g. hard hat cooling inserts and evaporative cooling vests)
- large fans
In any case, always make sure adequate medical services are available and be ready to stop and reschedule work as necessary. At certain temperatures, no task is worth the risk.
5. Take humidity seriously.
Relative humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture in the air. Sweat does not evaporate as quickly in a moist environment as it does in a dry climate. Because evaporation of sweat from the skin is one of the ways the human body cools itself on a hot day, high humidity reduces our natural cooling potential, causing us to feel hotter. Low humidity can also be a problem for outdoor workers in hot, desert-like climates. Sweat evaporates rapidly in low humidity, which can lead to severe dehydration when a person doesn’t drink enough water throughout the day.
6. Think indoors, too.
Heat illness can anywhere. Based on where you do business, your organization may be on the hook for indoor as well as outdoor conditions. California, for instance, is finalizing a heat illness prevention rule that would apply to indoor work areas where temperatures exceed 82° F. Many of the same precautions as outdoor environments apply to indoor settings. Keep in mind that architectural aspects, such as reflective shields and insulation, can impact a building’s internal temperature.
7. Create a heat illness prevention team.
Designate people within your organization as heat safety leaders. Members of the team should be responsible for reporting, monitoring conditions, managing response protocols, implementing controls at each risk level, and ensuring the availability of supplies and equipment.
8. Educate your employees.
Employees should be trained to recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses, on what to do when symptoms are observed, and on site-specific risks and controls. In addition to their personal heat illness prevention choices, such as water intake and clothing, members of your workforce also need to be aware of their individual risk factors, including age, medications, obesity, diet, smoking habits, and medical conditions.
These 8 strategies may seem like a lot of work, but they’re easy to implement in any organization with a strong safety culture and workforce management system in place. When you work with KPA, we’ll help you with both. See how we can keep you and your employees cool—in more ways than one.