July 20, 2023

It’s the employer’s responsibility to protect workers from the soaring summer heat.  

The federal OSHA general duty clause says employers must provide workplaces that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” That includes excessive heat.  

Over 170,000 employees suffer heat-related injuries each year and file worker’s compensation claims for heat stroke, slips due to sweaty grips and accidents because of foggy safety glasses. If the incident causes a worker to miss work, the employer must pay a percentage of their wages until the individual is able to return to full employment.  

According to a UCLA study, on days when the temperature reaches 90° Fahrenheit, work injuries increase 6% – 9%, and when triple digits hit, injuries increase 10% -15%. Similarly, a Texas study found that after just one day of 100°+ temperatures, workers’ compensation claims over the next 3 days rose by 3.5% to 3.7%. 

The longer the heat index remains above 90°, the more employers pay in workers’ compensation costs.

To keep employees safe and mitigate a summer rise in healthcare and operational costs, employers should follow guidelines set forth by OSHA’s Heat Illness National Emphasis Program

  1. Conduct thorough risk assessments to identify potential heat-related hazards. 
  2. Develop a written heat illness prevention plan tailored to each worksite, outlining procedures for acclimatizing employees, providing water and shade, scheduling rest breaks and establishing emergency response protocols. 
  3. Educate workers about the risks of heat exposure, symptoms of heat-related illnesses, preventive measures and first aid. 
  4. Ensure an adequate supply of water, encourage workers to hydrate frequently and insist they take sufficient time to rest and recover from heat exposure. 
  5. Implement administrative controls (e.g., earlier start times and employee/job rotation) to limit heat exposure. Allow employees to gradually adjust to the duration and intensity of their work to build heat stress tolerance. 
  6.  Train supervisors to observe workers for signs of heat-related illnesses. Implement a buddy system to keep an eye on co-workers. 

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Andrea Foster-Mack