With summer weather starting to sweep across the country, OSHA has issued guidance on protecting workers from the adverse health effects of heat at work. Employers should take note as OSHA has called excessive heat a recognized hazard and has cited employers under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 for failing to take feasible steps to address workplace exposures to heat.

The new guidance lists the following factors that can lead to heat stress:

  • High temperature and humidity;
  • Direct sun or heat;
  • Limited air movement;
  • Physical exertion;
  • Poor physical condition;
  • Some medicines;
  • Inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces; and
  • Insufficient water intake.

To prevent the adverse effects of heat – heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rashes – OSHA recommends that employers consider a variety of administrative and work practice controls. These include:

  • Acclimating workers to heat by exposing them to work in a hot environment for progressively longer periods;
  • Providing cool liquids to employees (not including caffeinated beverages) and encouraging them to drink small amounts frequently (e.g., one cup every 20 minutes);
  • Reducing physical demands, such as excessive lifting, climbing, or digging and, if necessary, use relief workers or assign extra workers to minimize overexertion;
  • Providing recovery areas such as air-conditioned enclosures;
  • Providing intermittent rest breaks;
  • Rescheduling hot jobs to the cooler part of the day; and
  • Monitoring workers who are at risk of heat stress by checking their heart rate and oral temperature.

OSHA also recommends employers consider certain personal protective equipment (PPE) to address heat hazards, such as loose-fitting reflective clothing, wetted clothing, and water-cooled garments. 

With its new guidance, OSHA is putting employers on notice that they need to take heat-related illness seriously. Employers are encouraged to do so, particularly as we get deeper and deeper into the summer months.