Managing Summer Heat

One thing that must be dealt with each year is how to ensure our employees cope safely with summer heat when their work area is not air conditioned. Monitoring of the heat index is of primary importance. The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature. For example, 90°F with 10% humidity will result in a heat index of 85°F. On the other hand, 90°F with 60% humidity will result in a heat index of 100°F. 

According to the National Weather Service, extreme caution must be taken when the heat index exceeds 90°F, with increased danger above 105°F and extreme danger above 130°F. It is important to note that while temperature and humidity can be from the outside air, either or both can also result from manufacturing processes. Temperature and humidity gauges should be placed in these areas.

The heat-related ailments most commonly seen are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  The first two of these can be treated with immediate cooling and hydration. Heat stroke requires emergency medical treatment. 

There are many proactive steps that can be taken to prevent heat-related ailments:
    1. Allow employees to wear short pants and short sleeved shirts to work.
    2. Put large paper cups next to the drinking fountain.
    3. Open doors and windows to improve ventilation.
    4. Shut off heat-producing machines and lights.
    5. Move the workday earlier to take advantage of cooler temperatures.
    6. Schedule strenuous activities to earlier in the day.
    7. Make cooling stations available for all employees during breaks.
    8.  Install fans to improve ventilation.
    9.  Use shading devices for outdoor work.
    10. Install temperature and humidity gauges.
    11. Increase frequency of cooling and hydration breaks, or slow work pace.

Supervisors and employees need to be educated as to how to best manage high heat situations and how to recognize the symptoms of and treatment for heat related ailments. An in-depth article and toolbox talk to facilitate this educational process are available in the Safety Resources section

This step on the path to an effective safety program can positively impact your productivity, the health and well-being of your employees, and a better bottom line.

This article was written in conjunction with participants in the OSHA and ASA Alliance. It does not necessarily reflect the official views of OSHA or the U.S. Department of Labor.