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May 05, 2014
California issues first heat advisory of the season: Tips for preventing heat stress

A recent heat wave in California led the state’s OSHA program to issue its first heat advisory of the season. As temperatures rise around the country, take time to review your heat protection program. Keep reading for important tips and reminders.

Cal/OSHA’s heat regulation requires that all employers with outdoor workers take basic steps to prevent heat stress. These steps provide a good foundation for any business that wants to protect workers from heat illness, which can range from bothersome to potentially fatal.

  • Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.
  • Provide plenty of cool, fresh water and encourage employees to drink frequently.
  • Provide a shaded area for employees to take a cool-down recovery break.
  • Prepare an emergency heat illness prevention plan for the worksite with training for supervisors and workers on steps to take if a worker shows signs or symptoms of heat illness.

It’s also important at this time of year to help workers acclimatize, which means getting them gradually used to working outdoors in the heat.

California employers should note that Cal/OSHA will inspect worksites in outdoor industries including agriculture, construction, and landscaping for compliance with heat stress regulations throughout the season.

Federal OSHA’s approach to heat stress

While federal OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in hot environments, employees are required under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act to protect workers from recognized serious hazards. OSHA has cited and fined employers who expose workers to excessive heat, so it’s a good idea to implement a program for protecting your employees.

Are these recommendations part of your heat safety policy? OSHA believes they should be:

  • Train workers and supervisors on the hazards leading to heat illness and ways to prevent them, and instruct workers to report any symptoms.
  • For new or returning workers, gradually increase the workload or allow more frequent breaks during the first week.
  • Provide plenty of cool water and remind employees to frequently drink small amounts before they feel thirsty. They should drink more (1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes) in moderately hot conditions, but drinking extreme amounts of water can also be dangerous.
  • Encourage workers to eat regular meals and snacks during hot periods.
  • If possible, establish a buddy system or check regularly to make sure workers are using water and shade and are not experiencing heat-related symptoms.
  • Reduce the physical demands of the job. Change work/rest cycles to increase the amount of rest time if heavy job tasks cannot be avoided.
  • Schedule frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned recovery areas.
  • Monitor weather reports and reschedule jobs with high heat exposure to cooler times of day.
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