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Help Employees Beat the Heat

Summer is here in full swing.  In Texas, daily temperatures are already into the 90’s.  For employers its time to assess your heat-related safety practices.  Heat-related illness includes heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat rash.  Even if your employees work indoors, you still need to pay attention to working conditions (especially, as Amazon learned, in warehouses, distribution centers, and other large areas where temperatures are hard to control and employees are engaged in manual labor).

Although OSHA does not have a specific standard* on heat stress hazards (OSHA has ignored two sets of proposed standards submitted by NIOSH).   OSHA has cited employers for unsafe working conditions based on excessive heat (see Duririon v. Sec’y of Labor) under the General Duty Clause (section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act), which requires employers to keep the workplace free of recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. A hazard is considered “recognized” if the employer actually recognizes the hazard or the hazard is generally recognized by the employer’s industry.

*Some states have adopted regulations specific to heat-related safety practices. For example see Washington‘s and California’s approach.

Texas, like most states, also does not have specific heat-related safety guidance but it is possible for an employer to be liable for an employee’s heat related death or disability if that employee was injured while performing duties that subjected him or her to heat-related hazards greater than that experienced by the general public (See Tex. Employers’ Ins. Ass’n v. Rogers, 487 S.W.2d 807 (Tex. Civ. App.— Eastland 1972).

Regardless of the state of your regulatory environment, it is smart business to take care of your employees health and welfare while on the job, and that includes taking steps to prevent heat-related injuries.  Make sure that you incorporate additional breaks, educate your employees on the signs of heat-related injuries, provide fans and other air circulation devices, and plenty of opportunities to stay hydrated (water, Gatorade, etc.).  You can even work safety efforts into employee-morale events . . . have a picnic that includes watermelon, which has a high water content, or have a popsicle or ice cream break.

EMPLOYER RESOURCES:

OSHA offers a number of tools to assist employers beginning with its “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign.  OSHA’s technical manual also offers insight in to how OSHA inspectors will investigate when a heat relates injury occurs.  The Centers for Disease Control also has some great information about the symptoms and treatment of heat-related injuries and how to avoid them on its website.  The Texas Department of Insurance also offers guidance to employers on how to avoid heat-related illnesses and offers a library of safety-related training CDs that you can borrow, including one on heat stress.  Texas A&M also has a tip sheet available (Coping with HOT Work Environments).

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