Summer is in full swing and safety professionals are focused on implementing effective measures to safeguard workers and establish robust health and safety programs. One significant concern during this time of the year is heat stress, which poses a considerable risk, particularly for individuals who are frequently exposed to elevated temperatures and intense sunlight in their work environments. In order to prevent heat-related injuries and illnesses among workers, it is essential to provide them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and thorough training. This becomes even more crucial in industries like construction, agriculture and landscape architecture, in which the summer season plays a pivotal role in work operations.
And the risk is a reality for too many workers on the job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 344 heat-related worker deaths between 2011 and 2019. Other accounts, such as a 2022 report from consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, put those estimates even higher, with up to 2,000 worker deaths and 170,000 heat-related injuries annually. This alarming data highlights the grave consequences and devastating impact of occupational heat exposure on the health and safety of millions of workers across the United States. Each year, a staggering number of individuals are exposed to scorching hot workplace environments, facing hazardous conditions that significantly increase the risk of heat-related illnesses. These illnesses not only cause immense discomfort and even incapacitation for the affected workers but can also lead to long-term health complications and in severe cases even result in fatalities. The toll of occupational heat exposure on workers' health and well-being underscores the urgent need for proactive measures, including the provision of proper personal protective equipment and comprehensive training, to mitigate the risks and ensure the protection of workers' lives.
PPE helps combat illness
The right PPE can help workers mitigate many types of heat illness. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, workers often experience both exertional heat illness caused by physical labor and environmental heat illness, which is influenced by external conditions such as temperature and relative humidity and varies by jobsite. By outfitting workers with safety gear that both helps them regulate their temperature and protects them from exposure, safety professionals are able to account for a number of variables facing workers across their enterprise.
When considering PPE decisions, several factors are crucial to take into account in order to ensure the utmost level of employee safety, well-being and comfort throughout their work environments and tasks.
- Cooling details: Small details matter, such as venting details on clothing for better air circulation, keeping workers cooler.
- Advanced cooling technology: New technologies go beyond sweat-wicking materials. For example, footwear with conductive fibers helps move heat away from the body, instantly cooling the worker.
- Prioritizing all-day comfort: Bottom line – PPE must be comfortable enough to wear all day long. As people increasingly take advantage of breathable materials to beat the heat in their free time, heavy-duty PPE options can seem bulky and hot in comparison. Seek high-quality, innovative lightweight options that meet safety standards and provide protection.
In addition to providing PPE, it is crucial to establish a comprehensive and holistic heat illness prevention program that encompasses a range of essential components, including education, training and the development of robust job site safety plans. Consider the following:
- Acclimation to heat: Workers need time to adjust to high temperatures, as a significant percentage of outdoor fatalities occur in the initial days of labor in a hot environment, according to OSHA .
- Awareness of symptoms: Educate workers about the signs of heat-related illness to proactively protect themselves and their coworkers by taking breaks before heat stress has the potential to cause an incident. By catching the situation early and drinking fluids, seeking out a cool, well-ventilated area and encouraging other workers to do the same, workers can keep job sites safe.
- Emergency training: Ensure workers and supervisors know how to respond if heat-related illness becomes an emergency, following OSHA guidelines for heat stroke. All job sites should be outfitted with the tools to follow OSHA guidelines on heat stroke, which include immersion in cold water, a cold shower or covering the body in cold, wet towels if water isn’t readily available.
Building and maintaining a comprehensive and effective heat illness prevention program, which includes the selection and implementation of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), can present its fair share of challenges and complexities. However, these challenges can be effectively navigated by forging a strategic partnership with a reliable and knowledgeable PPE provider. Such a partnership brings valuable expertise and experience to the table, enabling them to offer informed recommendations and tailored solutions that align with the unique needs and requirements of your workforce all year long.
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Heat Exposure Overview: Working in Outdoor and Indoor Heat Environments: https://www.osha.gov/heat-exposure