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Outdoor workers' health and safety in the heat, continued


"Water. Rest. Shade. The work can't get done without them." Thus reads the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's banner atop their online resource for protecting outdoor workers from heat illness. Unfortunately, Utica employers all too often see it just the opposite way, pushing their employees to keep working in the heat until the work is done. Only then do they provide water, rest and shade.

While there are no specific federal safety regulations that stipulate how hot is too hot for outdoor workers, heat is a recognized hazard from which employers must protect their workers according to the OSH Act. OSHA does provide guidelines for employers based on the heat index (a factor of both the temperature and the relative humidity). As the heat index rises, additional precautions are recommended.

There are other factors that employers need to consider, however, besides the heat index. These include:

  • The type of activity being performed. Strenuous labor generates internal heat; compounded with a high heat index, this places these workers at greater risk of illness.
  • The type of clothing being worn. Workers who must wear heavy clothing or protective equipment face a similar problem with retaining internal heat.
  • A worker's acclimation to the heat. New workers and those coming back on the job from time away need to increase their heat tolerance gradually, with more frequent breaks in the beginning.

In other words, even if the heat index alone doesn't call for aggressive precautions, workers who are doing hard work in heavy clothing (and/or who are relatively new on the job) will still need more water, rest and shade in order to protect their health and safety.

Just what are the risks, our readers may be wondering, if workers do stay out in the heat working too hard for too long? Is heat illness something for which workers' compensation may be appropriate? We'll take a look at the symptoms of heat illness in the next blog post.

Source: OSHA.gov, "Welcome to OSHA's Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers," accessed on July 25, 2015

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