“Winter is coming!”, reads a popular line in Game of Thrones. And it has indeed arrived, much to the delight of kids and adults, as the season brings snow and a nippy weather that mark the start of the holidays. Despite the generally cold ambiance, employers need to protect employees from cold and exposure to carbon monoxide from gas heaters.
Let’s not forget the recent hot summers that have caused heat-related deaths based on OSHA’s latest news releases. One of these heat-related deaths include a Lakewood, New Jersey printer that was cited for exposing workers in its silk-screening department to excessive levels of heat. The company was cited for six serious and two other-than-serious violations and fined $11,000. The incidence occurred in June at the peak of the summer months. According to the OSHA news release, the company also failed to ensure exit routes are unobstructed, develop a hazard communication program and failing to prove that a PPE assessment was conducted.
Another incident involved Chicago based company, Aldridge Electric, whose 36-year-old worker died of a heat stroke at a job site. The worker was installing an electrical conduit at an uncovered trench when the worker fell ill. It was the worker’s first day on the job. OSHA’s investigation revealed that Aldridge Electric doesn’t have an adequate and effective heat stress program in place. The company also failed to allow the newly hired worker to get acclimated to the combined effects of heat and physical work—both dangerous combination. The worker passed away the following day he suffered the stroke.
Although heat-related illnesses may be rare during this season, it doesn’t mean that employers should divert focus on heat awareness. After all, heat illnesses and death could occur inside confined spaces or workplaces where there is not enough ventilation to cool down employees working around heat-emitting machines and where employees are required to wear PPEs that could make them hot. How can workers and employers prevent heat-illness related deaths and injuries at workplaces despite any season? Well, for one, not committing the same mistakes as the above companies, and for another, by implementing these measures, as prescribed by OSHA:
Implementing engineering controls and work practices. This includes putting up cooling fans around the workplace to ventilate the place; allowing workers to take quick breaks on regular intervals to replenish lost fluids, cool down and rest.
– Break rooms should also be air conditioned and hot surfaces insulated.
– Work areas should have a potable drinking water station.
– Rotating job functions so workers won’t get over-exhausted and to limit their occupational exposure to heat.
– Workers should be aware of the rules of an effective and adequate emergency plan, which employers have to implement. This emergency plan will basically teach workers how to recognize signs of heat-related illnesses, and ensures medical response is within reach.
Acclimatization to heat levels and the work load. Employers should allow workers to get used to the heat and to work on lighter loads—gradually increasing the work load moving forward—to prevent overexertion. This is especially important for workers who are new to the work environment or have returned to work after a few weeks on break. Workers should be allowed to take frequent breaks as well during their first week of work, and to distribute work evenly throughout their shift.
Provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment. Workers should be made aware that the use of some PPEs can increase one’s heat stress level. Employers should provide cooling devices along with PPEs to make sure that workers are working conveniently and safely. These cooling devices include:
– A portable, self-contained air conditioner stored in a backpack
– Insulated clothing and reflective face shields
– Wearing thermally conditioned clothing that has a compressed air source
Providing worker training on heat awareness. Employers should train workers on how to minimize occupational exposure to heat, how to recognize symptoms of heat-related illness, know the importance of acclimatization and how to do it, and how to respond to heat-related illness emergencies.