Beating the Heat: Keeping Employees Safe Amid Rising Temperatures through Education and Training

Beating the Heat: Keeping Employees Safe Amid Rising Temperatures through Education and Training

Employers must proactively protect workers from changing heat conditions by allocating training budgets, providing effective resources, and addressing overall employee health.

Today’s industrial workers operate in a range of environmental circumstances from record-breaking heat to tropical storms. As global warming continues to progress, rising temperatures loom over employees, especially those who work in outdoor environments and indoor industrial facilities. Now more than ever, employers are left in the important position of protecting workers from changing heat conditions. With this responsibility, businesses must proactively navigate finding an appropriate training budget, provide the most effective resources and proactively address the holistic work health of employees. 

Turning Up the Heat on Industrial Workers 

In 2023, the Earth’s average temperature became the hottest on record and it’s predicted to get hotter. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 702 deaths, 67,512 ER visits and 9,235 individuals hospitalized per year due to environmental heat exposure. Industrial employees—such as those in construction, mining, manufacturing, utilities and transportation—are at a heightened risk for heat-related illnesses. Heat stress is one of many heat-related illnesses. Other forms include heat rash, heat cramps, heat syncope (fainting), heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

What’s more, heat-related injuries aren’t new concerns. In 2022, OSHA created an emphasis program to help employers better protect their employees and reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to heat-related issues. Presently, OSHA is in the process of developing a potential heat-specific workplace standard with several states having already implemented their own heat stress standards to assist with this ongoing issue. As businesses work to address the rising number of heat-related injuries, it is all the more critical for organizations to ensure they are proactively prepared and have the right resources on hand. 

Understanding Heat Stress

As heat stress training rises to the top of essential knowledge for industrial employees, businesses need to look to informative courses to ensure they address the causes, symptoms and prevention of heat stress. Looking to educational materials to aid safe work practices is essential, but equally important is carefully vetting training to ensure it hits all key points. More specifically, employers need to educate employees on how to stay safe while working in extreme temperatures, how the body reacts to heat and the causes of heat stress itself.

Businesses should also check that their resources and background education discuss the various forms of heat stress, including those such as the ones above. Further, heat stress education must also address the signs, symptoms and treatment along with the appropriate next steps for each in order to prepare employees to act in the moment if needed. 

Beyond outdoor environments, indoor workers are also at risk for heat stress depending on working conditions. Those working with heat-generating appliances, like in a kitchen or laundry room or manufacturing with local heat sources such as a furnace are not out of the clear, even though they spend their time working inside. Regardless of the business or environment, employers need to ensure a diverse range of heat stress situations are addressed in any training program.

The Importance of Employee Education and Training

As more organizations focus on safety and compliance training to reduce risk and protect their employees, the number of heat stress courses taken has risen by 25 percent in 2023. So with rising concern over heat stress, how should companies best protect workers? Ultimately the answer is to implement new and existing safety precautions that comply with all state and federal regulations. 

One great resource businesses can leverage to meet all necessary regulations is online training. This mode of education is convenient for employees and allows for routine updates to stay current on the latest and best precautions. These trainings are also easy to implement, and in a time when quick, accessible resources are needed, they’re strong ways to deliver critical safety information rapidly.

Training is especially important for heat stress because the body’s reaction to heat can differ greatly by individual and their pre-existing conditions. Familiar with their own health and pre-existing conditions, employees can then utilize the information provided in the training to be more successful working in high or extreme heat conditions.

Microlearning is also an increasingly popular way to deliver information and is 17 percent more efficient than traditional learning courses. Instead of having to sit through 45-minute long courses, as is common for many training platforms, splitting training into 2-3 short segments over multiple days helps increase engagement and retention, while saving money by not wasting training time. 

Beyond microlearning, incorporating 3D animated courses when relevant is also a great way to ensure training is creating an engaging experience that helps employees visualize important situations, allowing them to feel more prepared should they encounter them. Microlearning is also a safer method for learners to see parts of heavy or dangerous machinery. However a business’ employees learn best, the various modes of training that exist help ensure maximum understanding of the material ultimately keeping employees safer.

Proactively Combating Heat Stress

Above and beyond tech there are simple measures employers can take to protect workers. Employers and employees alike must identify the best practices to stay cool amidst never-ending heat waves. Organizations need to enact a prevention-based strategy that includes educating employees to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and to know which ones require emergency care. 

Best practices to stay cool play a vital role in preventing heat-related illnesses and include tactics like facilitating worker acclimatization and gradually increasing exposure to heat, especially for newcomers or those returning after a week-long absence. For example, during the first week back on the job, employers should gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks. Another critical prevention measure is to provide an ample supply of safe drinking water near the work area, encourage regular consumption and educate workers about drinking small quantities frequently. 

Businesses should also be mindful and strategic with their scheduling to help reduce employee exposure to high heat. This includes scheduling work shifts that expose workers to heat for shorter, more frequent periods rather than longer, continuous stretches. Managers can also aim to minimize physically demanding tasks during hot weather or schedule them for cooler times of the day. Ultimately, job rotation tactics are essential in limiting the total heat exposure of individual workers over time and can be implemented immediately.

Another key element in preventing heat-related illnesses in the workplace is personal protective equipment (PPE). Educating workers and leaders on proper PPE in hot environments can have a big effect on preventing heat-related illnesses. Further, ensuring workers are aware that some PPE, like some respirators and impermeable clothing, can actually increase the risk of heat-related illness is another.

Educating employees on options and encouraging them to utilize PPE like insulated gloves, insulated suits, reflective clothing or infrared-reflecting face shields in place of the standard gear that may be provided is a great place to start. Beyond traditional clothing alternatives, exploring the use of thermally conditioned clothing options, such as garments with self-contained air conditioners or compressed air sources that supply cool air through vortex tubes should be top of mind. Alternatively, garments with pockets for dry ice or containers of ice are viable options.

With warmer months ahead, through a combination of effective course selection and completion that addresses best practices and other preventative measures, businesses can help employees take their health into their own hands while educating the workforce on essential safety precautions. When businesses prioritize employee safety and health, productivity and progress can excel.

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