The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), provides guidance on a number of safety topics, including outdoor safety and heat hazards. Extreme heat buildup occurs internally during physical labor and externally during weather and temperature changes. OSHA offers a wide selection of tips for employers and supervisors to follow to protect outdoor workers — such as landscapers, pool cleaners, road crews and construction laborers — from heat-related illness that could be deadly.
Learn to recognize heat-related illnesses, because exposure to extreme heat can cause organ damage, stroke and even death. Symptoms of heat illness vary but may include dry skin, high body temperature, red skin or rash, rapid pulse, dizziness and confusion. Employers, crew chiefs and other supervisors should pair workers and ask them to check each other for symptoms on high heat index days. Workers should also receive heat illness reminders at the start of every shift and instructions on where to find emergency medical staff, supplies and rest areas.
OSHA recommends monitoring of worker fluid intake, as extreme heat and intensive labor can cause rapid dehydration. In high heat, workers should drink at least four 8-ounce cups of water per hour, but no more than six cups per hour, for a total of 12 quarts per day. Supervisors should remove fluids known to increase dehydration, such as cold coffee and tea; sodas; and sports drinks containing sugar or caffeine. To increase water intake to desirable levels, OSHA recommends that supervisors treat plain water with flavorings or set up water stations with 8-ounce cups to remind workers to measure how much they drink.
Outdoor workers need to rest when working in extreme heat. OSHA recommends that supervisors distribute heavy workloads across longer schedules and among several workers to prevent buildup of internal body heat — especially if workers wear thick, heavy or impermeable clothing or equipment that prevents good air flow. Schedules should provide workers with frequent breaks to help them cool down. Workers who haven’t been exposed to high temperatures in the previous week should start with small tasks and limited heat exposure until they become acclimated.
Besides water and rest, OSHA recommends that workers receive shade from direct sunlight whenever possible during work and breaks. Supervisors should consider using sources of shade, such as trees with thick foliage, to their advantage. Additionally, supervisors should consider setting up tents and canopies. They should provide or advise workers to wear wide-brimmed hats and lightweight, breathable or reflective clothing whenever possible. In shaded areas, offer fans, misting stations and cooling vests filled with cold packets.
Businesses that can accomplish necessary outdoor work at night or early in the morning should change worker schedules to take advantage of cooler temperatures.
Workers, regardless of the length of their breaks, should always remove heavy or impermeable clothing or gear to cool down faster.
Supervisors should refer to their local National Weather Service for current heat index warnings.