I think we can all agree it has been hot in the southeast and across the country the last few weeks, this has triggered an increased focus from OSHA regarding heat exposure. One article this week discussed the unfortunate death of a young farmworker in Arizona resulting in a call for increased regulation and standards to address heat exposure. There has been previous articles posted discussing the OSHA Heat Injury and Illness NEP, but there has been additional focus over the past day or so. This article will hopefully serve as a reminder and encouragement for our members to take steps to address heat related injury and illnesses in the workplace.
This National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat related illness and injury was put in place to protect workers until a formal heat standard can be drafted. The NEP is not a standard but does outline steps employers should be taking to address heat exposure and illness in the workplace. This NEP will fall under the general duty clause and agriculture is one of the main concerns for OSHA. We as an industry must take this serious and implement a Heat Illness and Injury Prevention Program to protect our workers. This NEP also empowers OSHA with enforcement measures to insure employers are providing a workplace free from the effects of heat-related hazards. This NEP applies when employees are exposed to heat above 80 F and humidity above 40% (80 F heat index). Moving forward OSHA inspectors:
- Will ask about heat-related prevention programs during all on-site inspections.
- Will open an inspection if heat-related illness is recorded on OSHA 300 logs or there is an employee complaint.
- Will conduct randomly generated programmed inspections when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory in the area.
- Other government agencies such as Wage and Hour are also encouraged to inform OSHA if there are potential heat related exposures observed.
With this NEP and enforcement efforts, OSHA has released fact sheets, guidance, and posters to help employers address the hazards of heat related illness and increase awareness with employees.
OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Campaign: https://www.osha.gov/heat
OSHA Heat illness Prevention Training Guide:
OSHA Heat-exposure: https://www.osha.gov/heat-exposure
OSHA Heat Safety Tool: https://www.osha.gov/heat/heat-app
The links above provide great information on the topics of Heat-Related Illness and include information to assist employers with creating, implementing and training employees on heat-related illness prevention programs. Along with the written information in the links there are also many posters that can be downloaded and placed around the workplace to help remind workers about the dangers of heat-related illness. There is also a link above for an app to help employers monitor and predict when heat-related hazards may be present at their locations.
What Factors May Contribute to Heat Illness?
- High temperature and humidity
- Low fluid consumption
- Direct sun exposure or extreme heat
- Limited air movement
- Physical exertion
- Bulky protective clothing
What is Heat Illness?
Heat Stroke: Is the most serious and occurs when the body can no longer regulate temperature and body temperature rises to levels greater than 104°F. This is a medical emergency that may result in death. The symptoms are confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, and lack of the ability to sweat. Medical help must be called while attempting to cool worker down.
Heat Exhaustion: Is the next most serious and results in headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating, and body temperature over 104°F. Workers with heat exhaustion should be moved to cooler area and given liquids to drink. The body can be cooled with cold compresses. Workers with signs of heat exhaustion should be taken to a health clinic or ER for treatment. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke if not treated.
Heat Cramps: Are muscle pains caused by the loss of body salts and fluid due to sweating. Workers must replace fluid loss by drinking water or electrolyte replacement liquids .
Heat Rash: is the most common problem with hot work environments and is caused by sweating. It appears as red cluster of pimples on the neck, upper chest, groin, or elbow creases. The best treatment is to provide a cooler, less humid work environment.
One thing to remember with each of these types of heat illness, is that if not observed and treated early, a lesser illness could become a more serious illness. Therefore monitoring for and understanding symptoms is very important in protecting workers from heat related illness.
Prevention Made Simple
- Designate a person to oversee the heat stress program. This person must be trained in the hazards, physiological responses to heat, and controls. This person will oversee and monitor the program.
- Hazard identification involves recognizing heat hazards and the risk to workers due to high temperature, humidity, sun exposure, etc.
- Water-Rest-Shade. Water (cool/cold) is made available. Workers are encouraged to drink water in small amounts frequently.
- Fully shaded or air-conditioned areas are available for rest and cooling down.
- Provide unscheduled rest breaks and require work/rest periods (It is difficult to quantify specific breaks for specific scenarios in states covered by federal OSHA, so a best practice would be that when temperatures are above 87.8°F, there should be mandatory rest breaks of up to five minutes in shade every hour or 10 minutes every two hours.
- Acclimatization is when workers are given time to build tolerance to working in the heat. Workload and exposure are gradually increased while taking frequent water and rest breaks. Acclimatization may take up to 14 days or longer and depends on the individual and the work environment.
- Modified work schedules may reduce worker exposure to heat. Increasing work/rest cycles, starting work earlier, rescheduling physically demanding work, and stopping work are all methods to modify work schedules to limit or prevent exposure of workers to high heat hazards. Consider coming in VERY early and knocking off before it gets too hot.
- Training provided in a language and manner workers understand, including information on health effects, symptoms, and how to prevent and respond to heat illness. Employees must understand why and what steps are being taken to prevent heat illness.
- Monitoring for heat illness symptoms and establishing a system to report potential issues. Using the buddy system will assist supervisors and workers to monitor and watch for signs of heat illness.
- Emergency planning and response plans must be in place. What to do if heat illness symptoms occur. Who to call and how to provide emergency care until help arrives.
- Use a Buddy System. Have someone watch his or her buddy for the effects of heat stress/illness. Folks are likely to ignore their own symptoms but listen to a co-worker.
- Posters provided in links above are a great way to remind workers of the importance of heat related illness prevention
As you read through this list there are probably items that you and your workers are already doing to address heat in the workplace, it is important to evaluate what is already being done and make enhancements based on these guidelines. The key take away is to formalize a heat illness and injury prevention plan, train employees, and follow the plan. If you have any questions regarding heat injury and illness prevention please contact Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association.