As the temperature rises, so do incidences of heat-related illness, especially for employees in higher-risk professions. HR needs to help employees prevent heat exhaustion, dehydration, heat stress, heat stroke and other ailments that comes with the hot weather.
For employees that work in a warehouse or somewhere that is hard to keep cool, heat-related illness can cause hospitalization or even death. The problem has become so prevalent that OSHA has recently announced a new program to help protect employees from heat hazards.
There are many ways for employers to prevent heat exhaustion and ensure employees are staying safe during a heatwave or the dog days of summer.
In 2019, there were 43 work-related deaths due to environmental heat exposure, and 90% of heat-related deaths occurred between May and September. So, what can you do to help prevent these illnesses?
The importance of hydration can’t be overstated. Although just drinking water won’t fully prevent heat-related illness, it’s a good foundation to ensure employees are staying safe in the heat. There are many ways to help boost hydration, such as frequent water breaks and signs to remind employees to stay hydrated.
One way to boost the amount of water your employees are drinking is to incentivize it. For example, maybe employees get a raffle ticket for every water bottle refill or a company-wide goal and incentive is set for the amount of water bottle refills.
You may also want to encourage employees to continue staying hydrated outside of work. Starting the day hydrated and continuing to hydrate after you clock out can help prevent dehydration.
Accessible Cooldown Spaces
If your employees work in a warehouse or another place that makes it hard to keep employees cool, consider making temporary “cooldown rooms.” A cooldown room could be as simple as a tent with a few cooldown items inside, such as:
- An A/C unit or dehumidifier
- Industrial fans
- Coolers with ice, water bottles and Gatorade
- Fresh fruit or frozen snacks, such as popsicles
Cooling apparel can help ensure workers are staying as cool as possible in the heat.
Encourage clothing that is moisture-wicking, quick-drying and breathable. If you are providing employees with cooling clothing, such as cooling gaiters, make sure your employees know how to use them properly.
The wrong type of clothing, such as thick fabrics, can raise body temperatures and intensify the effects of heat. If possible, consider relaxing your company’s dress code during the summer months to encourage cooling clothing and light, breathable fabrics. Keep the dress code specific, so employees know what is and isn’t allowed.
You may also want to encourage workers to keep an extra set of clothes on the worksite to change into if need be.
Keep Coolers Convenient
Water coolers are a no-brainer for helping to keep employees safe and cool, but you need to ensure that they are accessible and plentiful around the workplace. Coolers tucked away in a corner or breakroom down the hall can deter workers from using them if they are busy or distracted. Keep them in plain sight and put them in multiple places around the office to make sure workers are using them frequently.
If you have the means, bringing in a refreshing treat like ice cream on an especially hot day can help boost motivation and keep them cool at the same time.
Keep Ventilation Efficient
A functioning and efficient ventilation system can help ensure your workplace and your employees are safe. Although updating ventilation can come with a hefty price tag, a properly functioning HVAC system can make a huge difference for your employees and prevent heat-related illness. Misters and fans can also help boost ventilation around the workplace. However, if your employees work in a warehouse, be sure to keep the misters contained to prevent inventory damage.
Create a Culture of Safety
Make sure your employees know the true dangers of heat exposure. You may even want to put up signs around your workplace that provide warning signs of heat-related illness and action steps for what to do if an employee seems to be showing these signs.
Creating a culture of safety is more than just education, though. Put that education into action by creating a rapid response plan in case of illness or exhaustion.
There are many different types of heat-related illnesses, including heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. All employees must know what to do and who to call when someone starts showing signs of heat exhaustion. Plus, a lack of education or first-aid training on heat hazards can even lead to hefty fines by OSHA.
It’s hard to avoid the heat in the summer months, but simple steps can help prevent serious illness and ensure your workers stay safe and productive, even with the rising temperatures.