Although workplace heat stress has no specific standard in most states, OSHA has begun to aggressively inspect for heat-related issues. This is especially true in states like CA where specific regulations exist. Employers need to plan now to protect their employees from heat stress as well as protect themselves from costly citations and litigation.
Too much heat can compromise a body’s cooling system, resulting in dehydration, cramps, exhaustion, and in some cases, fatal heat stroke. The risk of heat stress varies from person to person, which makes the challenge of a safe work place even more challenging. Factors include physical condition, temperature, humidity, clothing, pace of work, and environmental conditions. Heat stress is particularly prevalent in auto shops that do not have air conditioning.
OSHA is urging employers to create a heat stress program. Utilizing OSHA’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), the agency is attempting to regulate activities surrounding the risk of heat stress. A violation of the General Duty Clause may occur when workers have been working in hot environments and employers are aware of the risks but have not taken adequate protective action.
To protect your employees, implement the following:
- Provide adequate water, rest, and shade.
- Acclimate new employees and current employees who are returning from an extended time away.
- Implement a work and rest schedule.
- Provide a climate controlled area for cool down.
- Train temporary employees on the risk of heat stress and acclimate them to the environment.
In the event that heat stress does occur, OSHA may cite an employer if prompt remedial action is not taken when an employee falls ill. To protect your employees and yourself, establish specific responses and procedures for heat related emergencies. Training on the signs and symptoms are also encouraged.