Many employers struggle each year trying to find effective ways to keep their employees safe in the hot summer months. While OSHA doesn’t have a set procedure in place at the moment, they still require employers to mitigate the risk of illness and injury from heat exhaustion through the selection of a variety of existing programs. The process of choosing the right safety plan for your company and its employees can be stressful, but it’s not as difficult as you might think when you keep these five basic principles in mind.
1. Staying Hydrated with Water and Electrolytes
Your body is constantly working to reach homeostasis (balance), primarily through the retaining and releasing/reduction of body heat. The most prevalent act of self-balancing is sweating, which means your body is constantly in need of water. Just like a car releasing coolant to cool down your engine, your body perspires to regulate your body temperature. Keeping your organs (most importantly your brain) from overheating. Drinking water and replenishing electrolytes keeps your nervous system fueled and ready for the task at hand. The amount of water intake will vary and increase as the scope of work changes and increases in intensity.
2. Designated Cooldown Areas
If you’re working in an environment that’s hot, humid, and in direct sunlight, you’re going to need a designated cooldown area. This will allow your employees a chance to reset for the next round. The majority of Heat Stress programs requires that those working outside be shaded, as well as have a method of circulating air flow, such as fans or air conditioners. These accommodations are ideal, but they may also be unnecessary for the type of work being performed. Just like your water intake, resting periods also increase as the intensity of your work increases.
3. Encourage Light and Healthy Eating Habits
Your body is a machine that will give an output relative to its input. You’re inevitably going to struggle more the next day if you’ve eaten too much or drank too much the night before. Though you can’t completely regulate what your employees eat or drink, you’re going to want to encourage your workers to eat lighter foods while on the jobsite. Providing bottled waters and electrolyte packets is very helpful, as well as discouraging/prohibiting energy drinks on site during this season.
4. Discourage Excessive Work and New Diets
This point doesn’t get talked about enough. Make sure that your employees are working at a manageable pace. Production is naturally going to slow down with the added breaks for rest and water, and these accommodations should be factored into completion schedules or manpower to realistically reach the goals your company wishes to attain. Many employees also try to utilize the exposure to the heat as a catalyst to lose weight by starting new diets or working in excess of the recommended parameters. While some people can handle the heavier workload or dietary changes, the majority of your workers can’t. If you see this becoming a hazard, the employer should address the issue for the sake of their worker’s health and safety.
5. Hear Your Workers’ Needs
Your employees are likely to express their concerns regarding heat exhaustion when issues pop up. They know their bodies and see the signs of fatigue before a supervisor can. There may be some extreme and outlandish requests depending on the type of work being performed, but having an open line of communication for heat exhaustion-related issues and ideas will help workers find new ways to adapt to the working conditions, encourage better communication on all safety topics, and make your employees feel respected and valued.
– Written by: Jake Fielding