Four Tips To Protect Outdoor Workers From Heat Illness

With temperatures in California predicted to remain over 90 degrees for the next two weeks, Cal/OSHA shares effective procedures to protect all outdoor workers from heat illness.

With the National Weather Service predicting temperatures in parts of California to remain over 90 and 100 degrees for the next two weeks, Cal/OSHA is urging all employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness.

heat illness
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It’s important for employers to assess the risk of heat illness based on a worker’s duties and take appropriate steps to prevent them from getting sick. For example, the risk is less for an installation worker who arrives in an air-conditioned vehicle and spends one hour working outdoors than for a driver who makes deliveries in a non-air conditioned vehicle. Regardless of the level of risk, all outdoor workers must be protected equally and employers with outdoor workers must maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan year-round.

Employers with outdoor workers must take the following steps to prevent heat illness:

  1. Plan: Develop and implement an effective written prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
  2. Training: Train all employees and supervisors on prevention.
  3. Water: Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so.
  4. Shade: Provide shade when workers request it or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.

Cal/OSHA urges workers experiencing possible overheating to take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Workers who have existing health problems or medical conditions that reduce tolerance to heat, such as diabetes, need to be extra vigilant. Some high blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also increase a worker’s risk.

To prevent heat illness, it is crucial that supervisors are effectively trained on emergency procedures in case a worker gets sick. This helps ensure sick employees receive treatment immediately and that the symptoms do not develop into a serious illness or death.

California’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction, and landscaping. Other workers protected by the standard include those that spend a significant amount of time working outdoors such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.

Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program, the first of its kind in the nation, includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers. Prevention requirements and training materials are available online on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the website. A Heat Illness Prevention online tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.