Extreme Heat Is Affecting Workers Nationwide
Companies have a crucial role to play as worker safety concerns flare up.
- By Tom Miller
- Aug 17, 2023
July 2023 was just confirmed as the hottest month on record, and with the past eight years the hottest ever recorded, this heat is no longer just an anomaly. It’s the new normal. This summer, President Biden directed the U.S. Department of Labor to issue the first-ever Hazard Alert for Heat in an effort to protect workers and communities from extreme heat. But by and large, our infrastructure, legislation and workplaces have yet to adapt to better accommodate these conditions.
Every year, up to 2,000 workers lose their lives due to heat exposure. Employers have an obligation to make this right and keep their employees safe from harm. Companies must educate employees on symptoms and self-care but also provide them with tools to safely report issues when they begin to arise.
Extreme heat kills more people in the United States each year than any other natural hazard or extreme weather event. Environmental heat is estimated to be responsible for 170,000 work-related injuries every year. While outdoor workers such as farmers and construction crews typically come to mind as those most susceptible to hazardous heat levels, a recent study found that the impact is even greater on other sectors of the economy, including indoor workers, in part simply because a larger segment of the American workforce works indoors.
Across all workers, the study found that extreme heat increases absenteeism, reduces work hours and even impairs mental productivity and cognition. In addition, many indoor workers in industries such as manufacturing work in enclosed facilities without climate control and adequate ventilation, or work with heat-generating machinery, making them more prone to heat stress and exhaustion. To keep these workers safe, employers must provide them with tools to report incidents and unsafe conditions.
Organizations such as the United States Postal Service have received criticism for pushing postal workers to the brink without concerns for their safety. Earlier this summer, a postal worker in Dallas collapsed in a customer’s yard on a day that reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He lost his life. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a worker died every 101 minutes from a work-related injury in 2021. Until we instill a workplace culture that embraces safety and encourages employees to utilize reporting tools, more lives will be lost.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is currently drafting a heat standard for workplaces, but it could take years to go into effect. And while some facilities are starting to consider investing in large cooling systems, those are cost-prohibitive for smaller businesses and also take time to install. These are important long-term goals to work towards, but in the interim, employers need to act now before it’s too late.
Employers who adopt secure and anonymous real-time reporting systems are able to manage risks such as heat stress and intervene before issues arise. However, for these tools to be effective, every employee must feel comfortable reporting warning signs without fear of repercussions.
Anonymity and consistent codes of conduct are as important as the system itself. When organizations embrace secure reporting technologies, they give employees an opportunity to report workplace conditions fairly and receive important feedback which can inform their policies. This process is essential to maintain safe working conditions in extreme heat and beyond.
For instance, people may be less likely to report harmful working conditions if it means judgment from peers and supervisors, a potential loss of income or other backlash from management. Anonymous reporting systems and solutions give employees peace of mind so they can make their concerns known without fear of bias. These tools also allow employees to share information in real time, facilitating a faster and more productive resolution than standard whistleblowing or walking into a human resources office.
As excessive heat levels continue to plague our world, companies must make changes to adapt their workplace and prepare their workers for the future. Secure and anonymous safety reporting tools are a crucial part of this process and will have an immediate impact on workers’ wellness and productivity. The employee and the employer both benefit from proactive risk management technology that guarantees any health and safety issues can be addressed promptly and impartially. With this approach, companies can effectively implement policies tailored to their staff’s needs and concerns. With many sweltering summers sure to come, companies need to start making changes today. Too often, it is literally a matter of life or death.