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Summer Sizzle: Preventing On-the-Job Heat-Related Injuries & Illnesses

The summer months are heating up across the country, particularly in Southern California where we typically see sweltering temperatures from June through October. In fact, September and October can be some of our hottest months on record. It’s important during this time for California manufacturing firms to be extra vigilant in taking the precautions necessary to prevent on-the-job heat-related injuries and illnesses.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014 alone 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 actually died on the job from heat stroke and related causes. Heat-related illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

How do heat illnesses occur? The body normally cools itself by sweating; however, during hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating alone just doesn’t cut it. Your body temperature can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. This is even more so for workers in manufacturing facilities who are wearing personal protective equipment and thus are at an even higher risk for heat-related issues. Protective equipment such as protective clothing or respirators can trap heat next to the body.

In addition, work conditions also contribute to the risk of heat illness. Lack of ventilation at the physical plant, lack of easy access to water, and machines or equipment generating heat can combine to produce a hotter-than-usual work environment. Moreover, in certain situations, a central air system will not be effective because there are sources of high heat present in the workplace. If there are many heat-generating machines in the workplace, local exhaust ventilation systems should be used along with central air conditioning. How specific work is performed also contributes to the risk of heat illness, including a fast-paced environment where people are physically pushing themselves harder than usual, insufficient breaks or recovery periods, and unrealistic production goals.

Heat-intense environments can be costly for a manufacturing shop, with on-the-job injuries and illnesses resulting in higher Workers’ Compensation costs. Moreover, in addition to increasing the likelihood of injury or illness on the job, a hot work environment can contribute to a slower work pace. Studies show that worker productivity will decrease by more than one percent for every two degrees that temperatures rise above 77°F. At temperatures of 92°F or higher, there is a 16.6% decrease in productivity.

Preventive Measures to Take

In general but particularly under California law, workplaces should not be a source of injury or illness or threaten the lives of those who work there. In California, employers are required to establish, implement and maintain effective programs to prevent injury and illness as mandated by the Cal/OSHA Injury and Illness Prevention Standard. When it comes to heat hazards, workers should know what kinds of conditions contribute to the risk of a heat illness and the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses, what steps can be taken to avoid heat illnesses, and what to do in case of an emergency.

According to Cal/OSHA, employers with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program, including the following:

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimate, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

In addition, be sure your employees follow these measures to prevent heat-related incidents:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if not thirsty.
  • Rest to cool down.
  • Wear light-colored clothing.
  • Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers.
  • Take it “easy” on the first days of work in extreme heat, in order to get used the high temperatures.

If a worker becomes ill, make sure employees know to call a supervisor for help. If a supervisor is not available, they should then call 911. Someone should stay with the worker until help arrives.

Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS) is committed to facilitating the success of the manufacturing industry throughout California with sound, affordable insurance solutions supported by effective loss control and risk management services. This includes making sure you do what is necessary to maintain a safe work environment for your employees, which in turn keeps workers healthy and more productive and your operation OSHA-compliant while reducing the potential for Workers’ Compensation claims. For more information about industry-specific manufacturing insurance products and services, please call us at 855.910.5788.

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