It’s mid-summer and if your organization has employees working in less climate-controlled areas (such as the outdoors, in manufacturing plants, on construction sites, in child care facilities, and even sales people working in the field), it’s an ideal opportunity to help them weather the heat. Excessive heat can not only lead to illness, dizziness or headaches, dehydration and other serious consequences, but also can influence energy levels, and therefore productivity. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace, and therefore need to be cognizant of heat issues. In addition, working in the elements can be difficult on employees, so giving them the support and comfort needed can go a long way. Here are a few ways to help employees weather the heat, based on recommendations from OSHA as well as other employers in Northeast Ohio:
- Take note of the temperature or climate in the workplace and the challenges for employees through soliciting employee feedback or collecting objective information (temperature when machinery or equipment is being used, air quality, etc.). Be aware of workplace environmental issues that are impacting employees’ health and safety.
- Provide heat-safety training to educate employees about the dangers of working in the heat. You can tie this into an existing safety training program or create a separate program. Possible topics for this training are risk factors, signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and first aid measures to take in the event of an emergency (State Compensation Insurance Fund, 2010). In addition, it’s important to educate employees about the hazards of working in the heat including potential accidents due to slippery hands, possibility of burns, or dizziness.
- Provide filtered or bottled water. Many organizations provide filtered or bottled water for their employees in easily accessible places – such as the plant floor. Employees should always have access to clean drinking water.
- Allow for more frequent breaks. While your policies may only allow for two-three breaks on a shift, try to make concessions on hotter days – but make it clear that the heat is why those concessions are being made. Short, but frequent breaks seem to have the greatest benefit for workers (Gurchiek, 2007) versus longer, but less frequent breaks. In addition, make shaded or air conditioned areas accessible for breaks.
- Avoid strenuous work during the hottest part of the day and try to schedule employees in early or night shifts where possible. Also, it’s recommended that employees use the buddy system when working in heat.
- Encourage proper clothing such as loose, cotton, and lightweight fabrics. If your organization requires employees to wear a heavy uniform, consider changing the summer attire.
- Be mindful of employees with health conditions that may be affected by the conditions. Some health conditions or medications are adversely affected by the heat – including heart disease and diabetes. Such employees should be monitored more closely.
- Discourage presenteeism. Coming to work sick is an especially bad idea for employees during heat waves. Working in the heat can make ill employees even sicker (Griffin, 2004).
- Be prepared for an emergency. Make sure that an emergency plan is in place in the case of the onset of heat-related illnesses (King, 2010). Supervisors and employees should know what to do, who to call, and directions to the worksite to speed and direct the arrival of any emergency service vehicles.
- Deal with hygiene matters. Although not necessarily a safety hazard, heat sometimes exacerbates hygiene issues which can be a workplace distraction. Continue to communicate your policy regarding acceptable hygiene in the workplace and deal with recurring hygiene problems.
- Offer cool perks. On especially hot days, some organizations provide their employees with cool treats to boost morale and keep employees cool. Popsicles, ice cream socials, and an on-site ice cream truck visits are some possible ideas that we’ve seen other organizations use. Turn the hot (and possibly frustrating) day into an opportunity to “wow” your employees.
For more information, policies, or practices related to keeping employees safe and healthy during the hot summer months, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- OSHA (2001). Acceptable methods to reduce heat stress hazards in the workplace.
- Gerchiek, K. (2007). Heat poses health risks for workers, officials warn.
- Griffin, M. R. (2004). Hot summer days can make sick people sicker.
- State Compensation Insurance Fund (2010). New rules for preventing heat illnesses.