How to protect workers during the current heat wave

Citing "life-threatening" temperatures, federal safety authorities are advising employers to combine common sense with precautions tailored to their workplace.
rising temps
Image: Shutterstock

With nearly a third of the nation sweltering through a dangerous and historic heat wave, the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) is urging foodservice operators and other employers to follow its revised guidelines for protecting workers from heat illness.

The workplace safety watchdog is reminding all employers that they have a responsibility to shield their staffs. It recommends that they follow a combination of the agency’s four common sense practices and precautions tailored to a workplace, such as a hot kitchen.

The fundamentals, it says, are these four steps:

  • Make sure the staff has access to water and shade, and that they take cool-down breaks.
  • Enable workers to build up a tolerance to the heat. That process could involve permitting more numerous breaks.
  • Monitor the staff for signs of heat illness. Those indicators can include headaches, dizziness, slurred speech, abnormal behavior or the airing of unusual thoughts. If the employee stops sweating despite the heat, or if they report a drop in their urine output, aid should be sought immediately.
  • Teach employees how to protect themselves and otherwise have a plan ready to deal with the extraordinary situation.

OSHA also advises businesses to develop a plan for dealing with excessive heat and have first aid protocols in place.

Employees are advised to protect themselves by drinking at least a cup of cool water every 20 minutes even if they’re not thirsty.  

If the worker is sweating excessively, or is exposed to a hot situation for a long stretch, drinks containing electrolytes are recommended. But energy drinks and alcoholic beverages should be avoided.

The best initial treatment is trying to cool down the worker with water, ice, shade and a fan and air conditioning.

More information is available from OSHA’s webpage on the workplace dangers of heat.

The agency is stressing the precautions as the National Weather Service warns of “life-threatening excessive heat” across sections of the Midwest. It characterizes the high temperatures being recorded in the Southeast as “dangerous.”

Authorities say about 107 million Americans should remain in a cool indoor place because of the high temperatures in their areas. The thermometer readings in many of those regions are in the triple digits.

A number of states have more stringent employer requirements in place to protect workers from dangerous levels of heat.


More from our partners