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Allow recent recruits, returning workers to acclimate to heat
Who would you guess is most at risk for heat-related death while on the job?
It’s not necessarily older workers, first responders or those who toil outside all day.
Instead, the majority of recent heat-related deaths investigated by federal authorities involved workers who’d been on the job for three days or less.
That finding by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlights how important it is for employers to ensure that new workers—and returning employees who have been back to the job for a week or less—are prepared to protect themselves, OSHA authorities said.
With weather forecasters calling for above-average temperatures across much of the country this summer, the standard precautions—drink lots of water, take frequent breaks and spend time in the shade—may seem obvious. Yet those precautions may not be enough for new workers or employees returning to the job after extended time away. OSHA recommends allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase their workload and take more frequent breaks as they build up a tolerance for working in the heat.
Construction workers make up about one-third of heat-related worker deaths, but employees who work outdoors across many industries—agriculture, landscaping, transportation, utilities, grounds maintenance, emergency response, and oil and gas operations—are at risk when temperatures go up. Additionally, indoor employees who do strenuous work or wear bulky, protective clothing and use heavy equipment are also at risk. High humidity increases the chances of heat-related maladies such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
In 2014, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness, and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job, according to OSHA.
Under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for protecting workers from hazards on the job, including extreme heat. To prevent heat-related illness and fatalities, OSHA offers these suggestions:
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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