Depending on their geographic location, summertime can expose workers to physical hazards they don’t encounter at other times of the year. It is important for employers to recognize these hazards and mitigate risks associated with each of them by taking preventive, protective measures.
Summertime Physical Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines physical hazards as “factors within the environment that can harm the body without necessarily touching it.” Examples of physical hazards include radiation (including radiation from sunlight/UV waves and radioactive particles released from soil and rock); loud noises; lightning; and extreme temperatures.
Extreme heat, particularly in the summer, is often a concern for employer and employees. Summer temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses, ranging from mild illness to those with serious impacts on the overall health of a worker. Heat-related illnesses include cramps, rashes, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Symptoms may include clusters of pimples or blisters on the skin, cramps/pain, dizziness/fainting/light-headedness, headache, nausea, irritability, extreme thirst, decreased urine output, heavy sweating, confusion, slurred speech, and even seizures. Effective work practices can help reduce a worker’s chance of a heat-related illness and employers should consider a heat illness prevention plan.
Tips to mitigate risks associated with working during hot weather employers and employees include:
- Communication, especially among outdoor workers, can be achieved with regular meetings, two-way radios, cell phones, and walkie-talkies. Supervisors should observe employees during the day and monitor for any heat-related illness symptoms. Supervisors should also encourage reporting symptoms. Employees should be trained on signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and have a “buddy system” to help watch out for each other when working in hot conditions. Solo employees should “check in” at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Utilizing engineering controls. Hot weather isn’t just a threat to outdoor workers. Employers with workers in indoor environments where there is little or no air conditioning should increase air circulation inside with fans and install heat absorbing/reflective barriers in buildings. Engineering controls can also be implemented to reduce humidity in the environment.
- Implementing and following best work practices. Workers should limit time in the heat and increase time in cooler environments. Employers can help reduce the worker time in the heat by increasing the number of workers per task and adjusting work schedules to avoid the hottest time of the day. Supervisors should provide adequate amounts forms of hydration to employees and encourage breaks to avoid dehydration. Workers out in the heat for fewer than two hours per shift should drink at least 8 ounces of water every 15–20 minutes. Employers should ensure workers are acclimatized to their environment. Acclimatization is achieved by gradually increasing the time the worker is in hot environments.
Physical Hazard Resources:
- First Aid for Heat Illness
- NIOSH Acclimatization Fact Sheet
- OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App
- Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments
- NIOSH Prevent Heat Related Illness Poster
California Department of Industrial Relations, “Heat Illness Prevention eTool,” April 2018.
California Department of Industrial Relations, “Effective Communication: Preventing and Responding to Heat Illness.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Heat Stress – Recommendations,” June 6, 2018.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, hazard handout