How to Keep Your Employees Safe When Temperatures Rise

How to Keep Your Employees Safe When Temperatures Rise

Heat exposure—whether from the sun, an oven or machinery—can be a contributing factor to employee injuries or illnesses across a range of industries.

As summer continues across the Northern Hemisphere, many workers across the U.S. are subjected to high temperatures, and in some cases, heat waves. Heat waves can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses for workers, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), found that nearly 90 percent of work-related deaths caused by environmental exposure to heat occurred between June and September.

Heat exposure—whether from the sun, an oven or machinery—can be a contributing factor to employee injuries or illnesses across a range of industries. It’s particularly concerning for employees who primarily work outdoors, such as delivery drivers, lifeguards, and landscapers.

But heat-related safety is also relevant to many employees who work indoors as well, such as kitchen workers or wait staff in food-service environments. For instance, workers may be at increased risk of accidents, such as dropping tools or other equipment, due to sweaty, slippery hands or general distractions due to physical discomfort.

The following are tips for small business owners to help keep their employees safe in hot environments and help control the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries. By implementing these best practices, business owners can protect their business’ greatest assets–their employees.

  1. Create an illness/injury prevention plan (IIPP), then execute it. A safe workplace begins with a plan. Identify and assess potential hazards, then determine how you are going to mitigate those risks. Management needs to be committed to making improvements, and all employees need to be trained on the proper procedures. Also, ensure that training is done in the language the employee understands.

    If your business employs younger or seasonal workers who may be less experienced, safety training is especially important. Studies have shown that only about half (52%) of small businesses require workplace safety training for new student workers, even though these employees are more prone to injury and eligible for the same workers’ compensation benefits as full-time employees if they become injured or ill on the job.

  2. Create a cooler workspace. If your employees primarily work indoors, make sure your HVAC or cooling system is clean, efficient and in working order before the weather heats up. For employees who work in workshops, such as auto repair shop technicians, encourage them to keep doors open or use fans to create cross-ventilation when possible. For employees who primarily work outside, provide canopies, portable fans, water misters and other resources to help create a more comfortable environment and offer a respite from the beating sun.

  3. Provide hydration stations. Water coolers are much more than office hangout destinations. Placing water coolers in break rooms or other easily accessible areas is a great way to encourage employees to stay hydrated.

    For workers who are primarily outdoors, make sure to provide enough large containers of cold water so everyone can cool down and stay hydrated throughout the entire day.

  4. Encourage regular breaks. Working in hot and sunny environments or near heat sources all day can wear down employees. To help them rest and recharge, encourage them to take regular breaks in the shade or other cool environments. Build break times into employees’ schedules to help enforce the practice.

  5. Have a rapid response plan in place. Make sure employees know how to recognize the signs of heat-related illness and the immediate steps they need to help themselves or their co-workers. In the event of a medical emergency, contact 9-1-1 immediately, but also train employees so they can be proactive before professional help arrives.
Fostering a safe and comfortable work environment requires commitment every day of the year, but especially when seasonal risks, such as extreme heat, are a factor. By implementing the tips above, business owners can make sure their employees are safe when temperatures rise.

About the Author

Raul Chacon, Western Region Loss Control Manager for EMPLOYERS®, America’s small business insurance specialist®, which offers workers’ compensation insurance and services through Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, Employers Preferred Insurance Company, and Employers Assurance Company. Not all insurers do business in all jurisdictions. EMPLOYERS® and America’s small business insurance specialist® are registered trademarks of Employers Insurance Company of Nevada. The information provided is intended to provide a general overview. This information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. EMPLOYERS® makes no warranties for the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of the information provided, and will not be responsible for any actions taken based on the information contained herein. If you have legal questions or need legal advice, please consult an attorney. EMPLOYERS®, America’s small business insurance specialist® and EACCESS® are registered trademarks of EIG Services, Inc.

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