New App Helps Employers Prevent Heat Related Illnesses

New App Helps Employers Prevent Heat Related Illnesses

Water, rest and shade—these are three essential ingredients for keeping outdoor workers safe during the summer months. And now there’s a fourth: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Heat Safety Tool. A new smartphone application created with the assistance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), the app was designed to help prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.

Every year, thousands of workers become ill from heat exposure—and some even die. When hot weather combines with high humidity, body temperatures can rise to dangerous levels. If precautions are not taken—such as plenty of water and breaks to rest in the shade or an air conditioned area—minor heat illness symptoms can quickly progress to heat exhaustion and stroke. Heat stroke is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

While outdoor workers in industries including construction, utilities, agriculture, grounds maintenance, landscaping and oil and gas support operations are often the most affected by heat-related illness, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is at risk—especially if they must wear bulking protective clothing or equipment or are performing prolonged strenuous work. New workers, temporary workers and those returning to work after a vacation are at greater risk until they build up a tolerance to the conditions. According to OSHA, most work-related heat deaths occur within the first few days of working in the heat.

The Heat Safety Tool calculates the heat index for the worksite based on temperature and humidity data. The higher the heat index, the hotter the conditions feel. It’s a better indicator than air temperature alone for gauging heat illness dangers, or the “risk level” displayed by the app. Risk levels are:

  • Heat index less than 91°F = low
  • Heat index 91°F to 103°F = moderate
  • Heat index 103°F to 115°F = high
  • Heat index above 115°F = extreme

Supervisors can subsequently use the tool to get reminders about protective measures they should be taking to reduce their workers’ heat illness risks. These protective measures include:

  • Requiring workers to drink fluids
  • Requiring workers to take scheduled rest breaks
  • Planning for heat-related illness emergencies
  • Adjusting operations
  • Gradually building new employees’ workloads
  • Training workers to recognize heat illness symptoms
  • Requiring workers to monitor each other for signs of heat-related illness

While OSHA does not have specific safety standards in place for workers exposed to hot and humid environments, regulations require employers to protect their employees from recognized serious workplace hazards, which include heat-related illnesses.

You can download the Heat Safety Tool for Android and iPhone on the OSHA website.

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