Cal/OSHA -- California's division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- wants to remind employers about the dangers of working in hot environments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 37 workers died from heat-related illness in 2015. In 2017, the death toll for heat-related illness increased to 87. Employers can protect workers from heat-related illness, however, by following a few simple steps.
Cal/OSHA says employers must provide outdoor workers with fresh water. Dehydration is a major risk factor of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. When a worker becomes dehydrated, his or her body won't be able to release heat through perspiration (sweating). As a result, the worker's body temperature will continue to rise, potentially reaching dangerous temperatures that lead to heat stroke. By providing outdoor workers with fresh water -- at least 1 quart per hour -- employers can reduce the risk of heat-related illness among their workers.
In addition to water, employers must also provide outdoor workers with shade. According to Cal/OSHA, outdoor workers should be given access to shade when the temperature is higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Whether it's a large canopy or an area underneath a tall tree, workers should be able to take breaks and rest in the shade when it's hot outside.
The area underneath shade isn't necessarily cooler than a surrounding area that's exposed to the direct sun. However, shaded areas feel cooler because they reflect less solar radiation off the ground.
Many employers ignore the value of training their workers about heat-related illness. Unfortunately, this often leads to higher rates of heat-related illness on the job. To curb these numbers, Cal/OSHA says employers must train all managers, supervisors and employees on the dangers of heat-related illness as well as how to prevent it.
Finally, Cal/OSHA says employers must develop a written plan for preventing and responding to heat-related illness. Assuming an employer has a strong plan in place, the risk of heat-related illness occurring will be minimal. Nonetheless, a complete heat illness plan should include measures on how to respond to heat-related illness.
With summer right around the corner, employers should take action now to protect their workers from heat-related illness. Whether an employer is located in California or any of the 49 other states, following Cal/OSHA's tips can help.