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With South Carolina warming up this spring, cities and towns should start training employees on heat safety. Cases of heat-related fatalities have shown that workplaces with temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit may have a heat hazard when work activities are at or above a moderate workload. Since most employees of cities and towns work outside on a consistent basis, management should assess worker exposure and consider implementing a heat-related illness prevention program starting in the spring, rather than waiting until summer.

In February 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published the Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments. This publication is a technical resource on heat stress, signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, and heat programs. While heat-related illness prevention programs are referenced in the OSHA Technical Manual, there is no formal guide for developing a program. 

Heat-related Illness Prevention Program
An effective heat-related illness prevention program is incorporated in a broader safety and health program and aligns with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs core elements. Specifically, heat-related illness prevention is most effective when management commits to identifying and reducing exposure to heat stress hazards. A city's heat-related illness prevention program should establish how the city will determine how often workers are exposed to a heat hazard based on clothing and workload. The program should also include policies and procedures for controlling heat hazards, and for keeping employees safe when the city has limited control over the hazard.

The most effective way to prevent heat-related illness and fatality is to reduce heat stress in the workplace. The following are some engineering controls that may reduce heat stress: 

  • Use air conditioning;
  • Increase general ventilation;
  • Provide cooling fans;
  • Run local exhaust ventilation where heat is produced, such as through laundry vents;
  • Use reflective shields to block radiant heat;
  • Insulate hot surfaces, such as furnace walls;
  • Eliminate steam leaks; and
  • Provide shade for outdoor work sites.

When engineering controls are not enough to keep worker exposure limited, administrative controls are another way to prevent a worker's core body temperature from rising. Some administrative controls that may reduce heat stress include:

  • Acclimatize workers starting the first day working in the heat;
  • Re-acclimatize workers after extended absences;
  • Schedule work earlier or later in the day;
  • Use work/rest schedules;
  • Limit strenuous work, such as the carrying of heavy loads; and
  • Use relief workers when needed.

When engineering and administrative controls are not enough, personal protective equipment is a way to provide supplemental protection. Personal protective equipment that can reduce heat stress include:

  • Fire proximity suits;
  • Water-cooled garments;
  • Air-cooled garments;
  • Cooling vests;
  • Wetted over-garments;
  • Sun hats;
  • Light colored clothing; and
  • Sunscreen.

An effective heat-related illness prevention program should include a worker acclimatization program, heat alert program and medical monitoring program. It should also establish an effective training program that includes how to recognize heat-related illness symptoms and what to do when there is a heat-related illness emergency. OSHA recognizes that it may not always be feasible to implement all elements in all workplaces, but implementing as many elements as possible will make the program as effective as possible.

For more detailed information on program recommendations, see these links for resources for developing and implementing an effective heat-related illness prevention program:

SCMIT members have access to Dealing with Heat Stress, a free online training course, through LocalGovU. For more information on LocalGovU contact Venyke Harley at 803.933.1210 or losscontrol@masc.sc.