Salem – Heat illness poses a serious threat to workers whenever they are not prepared for hot weather. As temperatures rise this – and every – summer, Oregon OSHA urges employers to focus on prevention.
Prevention includes providing water, rest, and shade; gradually adapting workers to hot environments; and training employees to recognize the signs of heat illness and to raise concerns immediately.
“Workers in Oregon tend to be used to working in mild weather and are frequently not accustomed to high temperatures,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “That’s why it’s especially important for employers to take the threat of heat illness seriously, which means acting sooner – not later – to put the appropriate measures in place.”
Addressing the threat of heat illness on the job may become more challenging for employers and workers this summer as they also implement measures – including face coverings – to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.
Depending on the situation, they may consider certain steps. Those include adjusting work practices – including performing work during the coolest part of the day – making sure workers get regular breaks, shade, and water – with appropriate physical distancing – and using cooling masks or face shields.
Oregon OSHA’s consultation services can help you with site-specific questions and concerns. The program offers no-cost, confidential services specific to COVID-19.
Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and even seizures or death. From 2015 to 2019, a total of 41 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses (at least three days away from work). The number for 2019 (12) is preliminary and subject to change.
Oregon OSHA encourages employers and workers in especially labor-intensive industries, including construction and agriculture, to work together to prevent heat-related illness.
The call to address the hazards of working in high heat is part of an emphasis program run by Oregon OSHA. Under the program, the agency’s enforcement and consultation activities will include a review of employers’ plans to deal with heat exposure, especially from June 15 through Oct. 1 of each year.
The prevention program applies to both outdoor job sites and indoor workplaces where potential heat-related hazards may exist. Oregon OSHA urges employers to fill out a heat illness prevention plan. The plan outlines everything from risk factors and precautionary steps to locations of water and cooling areas.
Employers can get a sample heat illness prevention plan.
Here are some tips for preventing heat-related illness:
- Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
- Use the buddy system (work in pairs) to monitor the heat.
- Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
- Wear light, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing (such as cotton).
- Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas – allow your body to cool down.
- Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
- Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Move them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
- Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
- Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
- Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
- If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.
Employers can calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA heat stress app for mobile phones.
Go online to get more information about heat stress and prevention of heat-related illnesses.