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Extreme Heat-Related Illnesses Rise, OSHA Increases Inspections

By John Meder, Head of Risk Consulting & Claims Advocacy and Travis Bennett, Associate Director, National Casualty Loss Control Leader


Extreme Heat-Related Illnesses Rise, OSHA Increases Inspections

As heat waves continue to blanket the nation and many places are experiencing record temperatures, worker safety becomes a pressing concern. Workers suffer an average of 3,500 heat-related injuries and illnesses each year and that number is likely to increase with hotter weather—18 of the past 19 summers were the hottest on record.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recognized this as a growing issue and has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) with the goal of reducing or eliminating exposures to heat hazards. OSHA will be increasing inspections by 100% in each region to assess working conditions, and businesses must be prepared.

Employers must work proactively to mitigate heat-related illness and injury, not just to comply with OSHA and avoid litigation, but to keep employees healthy and safe.

What Industries Does This Affect?

Extreme heat-related illnesses and injuries impact indoor and outdoor workers. OSHA has identified 70 high-risk industries with significant exposure to heat and notable heat-related incidents on record. Industries include construction, farming, transportation, civil engineering, manufacturing, and more.

Companies that have received OSHA citations in the past or whose violations can be plainly seen by passersby are more likely to be targeted for an inspection.

What OSHA is Looking for, What Employers Need to Do

To prepare for OSHA inspection and to avoid heat-related hazards, employers must take strategic measures. Recommended actions include:

  • Written Heat Stress Program: Companies must detail their heat stress program in writing, outlining safe work practices and steps being taken to prevent heat-related exposures. Risk Strategies can provide employers with a template for this.
  • Acclimatization: 50%-70% of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to build a tolerance to the heat gradually over time. Workers need to be given time to properly acclimate to the heat, or risk catastrophic outcomes.
  • Employee Training: Employees and supervisors should be thoroughly trained on the hazards of heat-related illness; how to avoid heat-related illnesses by recognizing and avoiding situations that can lead to hazards; the impact of drugs, alcohol, medications, and sleep deprivation on heat stress; how to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses; first aid procedures if an incident does occur.
  • Administrative Controls: On hotter days, managers should schedule certain jobs for cooler parts of the day- especially those that are more physically demanding. Job tasks should be rotated throughout the day to balance strenuous activity with lighter work. Additionally, certain outdoor maintenance and repair work should be scheduled in the cooler season to minimize heat exposure.
  • Rest and Breaks: Employees must be given frequent breaks and opportunities to rest to recover from excess heat. These breaks should be mandatory. In hotter temperatures and in more strenuous working conditions, the number of breaks should increase.
  • Hydration: Employers must provide access to unlimited cool, potable water and encourage workers to drink water frequently. Water is key to fighting heat stress.
  • Provide Shade: In outdoor areas, a shaded area must be provided for rest and breaks.
  • Monitor Heat Index: Employers must closely monitor the heat index to determine the dangers of working conditions.
  • Equipment: Necessary protective clothing and equipment vary depending on the job site. Hats should be worn outdoors. If working indoors, workers should wear loose reflecting clothing designed to reflect radiant heat. Cooling vests can be useful, but if not kept moist they can become insulated and dangerous. Dermal patches that monitor core temperature and heart monitors can be used to tell if workers need to be removed from an area.
  • Engineering Practices: Air conditioning in break rooms, trailers, etc. will help decrease internal body temperatures. General ventilation, when fans are cooled properly, can help push out hot air. Reflective shields can block radiant heat and cooling fans can provide quick relief from the heat.

Insurance Considerations

Despite the increase in heat-related hazards, carriers are not yet raising workers compensation rates in response. However, during the underwriting process, insurers are looking more closely at workplace conditions and protocols to ensure that heat safety measures are in place. If a heat-related illness or injury occurs on a company’s watch, insurers will need assurances that changes have been made and that an incident will not happen again before renewing the policy.

Resources

Implementing proper mitigation policies and procedures can feel daunting, but many resources and organizations can help.

  • The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App: This app provides real-time heat index information based on location and forecasts heat changes by the hour so managers can strategically plan work schedules. The app also provides heat stress signs and symptoms so supervisors can use it to diagnose an employee and take steps to intervene before it escalates.
  • OSHA Website, Email, Social Media: OSHA is increasing its educational and awareness efforts and is providing more heat safety resources on its website, on its social media platforms, and through its newsletters.
  • On-Site Consultation: Separate from OSHA enforcement, on-site consultations are free of cost and help employers identify workplace hazards that may lead to heat-related incidents. Risk Strategies consultative brokers can connect employers with site auditors.

Temperatures will only continue to rise. Worker protection is critical in extreme heat. OSHA guidelines should be viewed as the bare minimum. Companies should take all steps possible and invest in employee safety. Not doing so could result in costly litigation, steep fines, or tragic fatalities.

 

Want to learn more?

Find John Meder on LinkedIn, here. Find Travis Bennett on LinkedIn, here.

Connect with the Risk Strategies Risk Management Services team at safety@risk‐strategies.com.

Email us directly at jmeder@riskstrategies.com or tbennett@risk-strategies.com.


The contents of this article are for general informational purposes only and Risk Strategies Company makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information contained herein. Any recommendations contained herein are intended to provide insight based on currently available information for consideration and should be vetted against applicable legal and business needs before application to a specific client.

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