As warmer weather nears and snow begins to thaw, companies need to prepare for summer and the possibility of heat-related hazards to protect their workers. According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, last summer we saw sweltering weather conditions, with record-breaking heat in more than 40 U.S. cities.

New workers, temporary workers or those returning from time off are especially susceptible to heat-induced illnesses. Heat strokes, exhaustion and cramps are serious risks for workers, but can be avoided with a strong workplace safety culture. While summer safety is a necessity for your employees’ sake, it’s also crucial for your brand’s namesake.

Setting standards for heat safety

Any time temperatures are high and the job requires physical activity, employers must take certain precautions. Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to regulate itself by sweating and the core body temperature rises to critical levels. Heat strokes, exhaustion and cramps are the possible outcomes of being subjected to hot weather conditions, all of which can have severe consequences.

Employers and employees alike need to be aware of the signs of heat stress:

  • Cramps
  • Chest Pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Heavy perspiration/moist and clammy skin
  • Labored breathing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness/lightheaded

The latest standards in heat illness prevention encourage all employers with outdoor work sites to train their employees on how to prevent heat illness for workers working outdoors in temperatures exceeding 85 degrees. However, the heat index from OSHA provides a better indicator of intense working conditions by factoring in humidity levels, rather than temperature alone. Informational heat safety posters should be posted for employees engaged in outdoor activities conducted in hot weather.

Quick tips

Here are several quick tips for employers to help avoid serious heat-induced illnesses this summer:

  1. Encourage all employees to report to work fully hydrated and free from the effects of caffeine and alcohol, and to stay hydrated throughout the workday by drinking plenty of fluids. OSHA recommends employers provide at least one pint of water per hour for every worker.
  2. Ensure workers wear roomy, breathable cotton clothing and if working outdoors, employees should wear protection like sunglasses, hats and sunscreen.
  3. Provide regular breaks in a shaded or well-ventilated area. Ideally, workloads could be gradually increased for any workers new to the job to adapt or acclimate to working in the heat.
  4. Schedule more vigorous labor at off-peak hours, when the temperature indoors is cooler and the sun isn’t as harsh outside. If possible, consider using fans and evaporative coolers indoors and screens or umbrellas to create shade when working outdoors.
  5. Provide training about the hazards leading to heat stress and how to prevent them. All workers should also know what to do if a peer becomes ill from the heat, including when it would be appropriate to call a supervisor for help versus calling 911.

With summer approaching, revamping your summer safety preparedness plan for heat-related illnesses can also protect your company’s reputation. Ensure all your employees are trained on OSHA requirements and the specific safety matters that impact their jobs. Give special attention to training summer temporary workers and make sure the training focuses on their specific job tasks. Develop a training matrix for each job/work area to identify required training for each employee. Track individual employee training to ensure competency. For critical safety skills, develop engaging and interactive training that promotes both knowledge and skills. Test your employees’ knowledge both at the completion of training and later to evaluate retention and practical application.

Safety and your employer reputation 

Workplace safety might not seem like a contributing factor when thinking about a company’s reputation; however, it could hinder the ability to attract good workers. OSHA studies have found that a company with a strong safety culture typically experiences few at-risk behaviors. In fact, workplaces with effective safety and health leadership are frequently rated “better places to work,” and have more satisfied, productive employees. Consequently, they also experience low incident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism and high productivity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 2.9 million nonfatal work-related injury and illnesses incidents were reported in 2015 from private industry employers. Not only does this affect your staff’s confidence, it also can have a negative effect on outside perceptions and your ability to recruit skilled workers. Think of your employer brand as crucial to your recruiting success as your consumer is to your market success.

Additionally, research from Gallup supports that worker safety and wellness leads to an increase in workplace morale and upkeep of company values, people strategy and HR policy. Companies that demonstrate concern for their workers and incorporating restorative actions reap the benefits of employee satisfaction and outside candidates’ interest. 

In short, a commitment to safety adds value to the business, the workplace and the livelihood of your workers. Make this summer season a win-win situation for your organization and your workforce by implementing and reinforcing proper safety precautions. Prioritizing the wellness and safety of your workforce ultimately impacts your employer brand and the ability to effectively attract, retain and recruit skilled workers.