OSHA initially launched the “Heat Illness Prevention” campaign in 2011 to help educate employers and employees on the dangers that may arise when working in hot environments. This year, OSHA re-emphasized its plan of action and published a “Quick Card,” which outlines several ways for employers to maintain the safety of their employees. Heat illness can take many forms including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash.
While the “Heat Illness Prevention” campaign are only guidelines, which means that employers are not obligated to follow them, employers should note that the failure to follow these recommendations and best practices can potentially “cause death or serious harm to employees,” which would result in a violation of Section 5(a)(1) of the Act.
The campaign states that employers should establish a program that:
- Provides workers with water, rest and shade
- Allows new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat
- Plans for emergencies and trains workers on prevention
- Monitors workers for signs of illness
Pursuant to OSHA regulations (29 CFR §§ 1915.88(b)(1) – (3)), employers are required to provide “potable water” to employees. OSHA’s “Heat Illness Prevention” campaign specifically recommends that “cool drinking water” be made readily available and “easily accessible.” (See https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_Hurricane_Facts/heat_stress.pdf). Moreover, OSHA suggests that employers “encourage workers to drink a liter of water over one hour, which is about one cup every fifteen minutes.” OSHA also recommends that outdoor workers be provided with shaded or air-conditioned areas to rest and cool down during breaks. While there is no required frequency of breaks, OSHA states that when the weather is moderately hot, workers should take 15-minute breaks every hour, but when the weather is extreme, breaks may need to occur more frequently.
OSHA also notes that workers need to take necessary time to acclimate their bodies to working in the heat. Some people can take “up to 14 days or longer” to fully acclimate to the heat. As such, OSHA recommends that “[n]ew workers and those returning from a prolonged absence … begin with 20% of the workload on the first day, increasing incrementally by no more than 20% each subsequent day.”
The 2017 publication also suggests that employers make at least one individual responsible for monitoring conditions and protecting teams of employees.
(Full disclosure, my dog Maggie was feeling a bit left out after seeing Fiona Ong and Gary Simpler’s dogs featured on the blog. I jumped at the chance to draft this week’s blog so I could tie in a cute picture of my dog.)