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How outdoor workers can stay safe in extreme heat - II

In our last post, we discussed how those men and women who work outdoors are susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and took a closer look at these two dangerous heat illnesses in order to help these workers better protect themselves.

As it turns out, the need for this discussion has become even more pressing given that much of the nation, including Colorado, is currently in the midst of a major heat wave that has made conditions not just oppressive, but hazardous.

In today's post, we'll examine some steps that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says employers must take to protect outdoor workers from the effects of heat, as well as some additional steps that outdoor workers can take on their own to protect themselves.

For employers, the elements of what OSHA calls a Heat Illness Prevention Program include the following:

  • Hazard identification: Having measures in place to identify when heat hazards develop, including a specialized thermometer that accounts for everything from temperature and humidity to wind speed and heat index.
  • Water. Rest. Shade: Providing workers with unlimited access to shaded/air-conditioned rest areas and cool drinking water, and encouraging them to utilize all three on a regular basis.
  • Acclimatization/Modification of work schedules: Slowly ramping up workloads during periods of excessive heat (50 percent on day one, 60 percent on day two, etc.), and modifying work schedules to limit heat exposure.
  • Training and emergency planning: Ensuring workers are provided training on the dangers of heat illness, appointing a point person to manage heat illness prevention program and, most significantly, developing an emergency plan.

As for the steps employees can take to protect themselves as temperatures border on searing, safety experts recommend the following:

  • Stay hydrated: OSHA recommends that when the heat index reaches 103 degrees or higher, outdoor workers should make an effort to drink four cups of cool water per hour (not to exceed six cups per hour) and avoid caffeinated beverages.
  • Have proper eyewear: While preventing heat illness is the paramount concern, safety experts also advise workers to consider wearing work-appropriate sunglasses (side panels, 100 percent UV protection).
  • Wear sunscreen: Similarly, safety experts advise workers to consider wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 while working in high temperatures and taking care to reapply it throughout the workday.
  • Secure the proper headwear: Safety experts recommend a breathable hat or bandana as it can help reflect heat from a worker's head and neck.
  • Harness the power of the smartphone: Safety experts urge workers to download a reliable weather app and monitor conditions, so that they know when conditions have or could become hazardous.

Here's hoping this information proves helpful and that outdoor workers weather this heat wave -- and all others -- safely.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you've been seriously injured in a workplace accident and have questions about work comp benefits.

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