Protect Workers from Heat Stress or Face OSHA | DCR Workforce Blog

Protect Workers from Heat Stress or Face OSHA

heat-stress-oshaFor many of us, the leaves are rapidly falling, we have experienced the season’s first frost, and winter is merely days away.  So the topic for today’s blog may seem a bit odd, but the topic is an important one – protecting workers from heat stress.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a release about a staffing firm and its client, a ship repair company, that were fined $7,000 each over the death of a temporary worker who succumbed to heat stress.  The worker was assigned to clean a ship’s deck in extreme heat conditions. OSHA lays responsibility for such mishaps on both the employer and the staffing company, who should have taken the necessary preventive measures to protect the worker.

While one’s initial reaction is to believe this to be an isolated incident, it occurs frequently enough to warrant OSHA’s attention, action, and warning to other employers.  Tough jobs with an element of risk tend to get filled by temporary workers. Workers are especially at risk when taking up temporary assignments where they may not be familiar with the work as well as the working conditions. But, exposure to heat and the steps needed to protect oneself from its effects are neither difficult nor expensive. By offering an effective orientation program at the start of work, in a language which the worker can easily understand, tragedies associated with heat stress can be eliminated.

Water, Rest and Shade:

OSHA investigates incidents where three or more people are hospitalized due to heat stress. OSHA evaluates the work environment, work practices and rules, protections and controls in place.  Businesses which adhere to the minimum criteria for compliance to protect their workers from heat stress create a safe work environment and protect their employees. There are three simple and effective formulae to minimize or avoid heat stress:

  • Start work earlier in the day.
  • Provide access to plenty of water.
  • Provide regular break times to speed recovery.

Such precautions help to make life easier in warm weather while protecting employers from possible charges of litigation. Any employer can prevent serious heat exposure by training the workers to adopt some of the following steps, as required:

  • Assess the possibility and extent of possible threat from exposure to heat.
  • Inform the employees of safety requirements and compliance requirements.
  • Provide access to fluids.
  •  Specify or provide the necessary protective safety equipment, clothing, footwear, headgear, gloves, encapsulated suits and other devices.
  • Provide adequate training to the workers on using the equipment effectively.
  • Institute sanctions which can dissuade the employees from taking unnecessary risks that invite injuries.
  • Calculate and enforce work hours and breaks based on toleration limits, given the specific work conditions and their possible effects.
  • Test new workers on actual work conditions, before assigning them to regular duties.
  • Use portable cooling equipment where possible.
  • Repair or replace any equipment which does not meet the required criteria for performance.
  • Upgrade to superior equipment and stay aware of developments in the area.
  • Watch for indications of health issues that may predispose a worker to heat stress.  This may be difficult as the employer or the safety officer are legally prohibited from asking detailed questions about one’s health but may still be held liable when an employee is injured on the job.

Some industries are under OSHA’s regulatory scanner on account of the inevitable exposure of their workers to extreme heat. This does not in any way absolve the other industries from the duty to protect their workers from heat stress.

Employers must prepare to ‘face the heat” from both sides, if they fail to anticipate the work conditions their employers could face.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.