Employee behavior and heat-related illness: 5 problem-solutions

Educational campaigns and accessible resources coupled with technology and meteorology precision have made it possible for employers to provide site-specific weather information and the proper resources and training for employees to combat the risk of heat exposures. Tools such as OSHA’s heat index app calculate the heat index for the worksite, display a risk level for workers, and provide reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level.

Yet, every year thousands of workers suffer from heat illness and some die. Why?

In some cases, it’s organizational factors such as indifferent or callous supervision, poor workplace conditions, and unrealistic production expectations, which reflect the company’s overarching culture. Yet, many employers are proactive and do an excellent job in training employees and implementing procedures to prevent heat stress that aren’t followed by some employees.

Here are five problem-solutions related to employee behavior and heat stress:

  1. Problem: Risk perceptionSome employees simply underestimate how serious heat illness can be. They’ve worked in the heat before without incident – been there, done that – can’t happen to them. Moreover, the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.

    That’s why the American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites. If a heat rash appears or a cramp develops, workers can dismiss them as an inconvenience and continue working without applying a powder or getting water or a sports drink. Even signs of heat exhaustion such as thirst, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, and irritability can be interpreted as being tired from working in the sun.

    Potential solutions: Make rest and shade breaks mandatory, pre-shift reminders about the symptoms of heat stress, foster a ‘stop and think’ culture, buddy system, make sure employees are aware of the worst-case scenario, and use testimonials and share previous incidents to heighten awareness.

  2. Problem: Don’t understand hydrationDehydration not only leads to heat stress but also impairs visual motor tracking, short-term memory, and concentration leading to work-related accidents. Most workers know that staying hydrated is critical when working in hot and humid environments.

    But “staying hydrated” means different things to different people. To some, it means waiting until they are thirsty to drink. To others, it means grabbing an ice-cold soda loaded with sugar.

    As a general guideline, the recommended amount of water intake is one quart per hour (ideally one cup every 15 minutes) of active work for the average adult. However, every worker is different. Workers with underlying medical conditions or those who are new to the work environment have unique hydration requirements.

    Potential solutions: Have water easily and readily available, provide reusable water bottles, enforce breaks, educate with detailed information about how to hydrate (frequency, water vs.sports drinks, predisposing medical factors, effects of diet, drinking alcohol) and the symptoms of dehydration, and issue frequent reminders and weather alerts throughout the day.

  3. Problem: Inexperienced workersSummer work means many young and inexperienced workers and OSHA statistics prove that these workers are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Whether it’s lack of knowledge, an immature attitude, fear, a desire to fit in and prove their worth, or an invincible mindset, some young workers try to side-step an acclimatization program and keep up with more seasoned workers with deadly results.

    Potential solutions: Have a mentoring program, tailor training, establish consequences for failure to follow rules, and consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling.

  4. Problem: Heat illness mythsEven well-trained employees can fall back on myths, misconceptions, and inaccuracies in the “heat” of the moment. Some common myths are:
    • When you’re having heat stroke, you don’t sweat
    • Acclimatization will protect you during a heat wave
    • Salt tablets are a good way to restore electrolytes lost during sweating
    • Off-duty drinking and diet do not adversely affect the ability to manage job-related heat
    • Medications/health conditions will not affect the ability to work safely in heat

    Potential solutions: To debunk myths, employees need to understand them. Make them a part of ongoing training.

  5. Problem: Bantering and sense of controlBanter is commonplace in many physically demanding jobs. Good-natured joshing and jibing can reduce stress and help to build strong teams. Yet, when bantering moves to rough-and-tumble horseplay or bullying it can lead to dire consequences. When workers are made to feel that needing a break is a sign of weakness – “don’t be a wimp,” “man-up” – a critical line is crossed.

    Potential solutions: How workers perceive the ease or consequences of horseplay or bullying is a key factor. All organizations should make clear what is acceptable and set clear boundaries. Importantly, drill home the message that workers are responsible for each other’s safety and make sure supervisors walk the talk.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA watch

Proposed changes to recordkeeping rule

According to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the proposed changes would rescind “the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301. These establishments will continue to be required to submit information from their Form 300A summaries.” The change is proposed to protect sensitive worker information from potential disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and to protect the privacy of employees injured on the job. Three organizations filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor and OSHA over the proposed changes.

Increase in worker fatalities gets attention in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska

Thirty-four worker deaths in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska with the increase linked to falls, struck by objects and vehicles, machine hazards, grain bin engulfment, and burns have led to an educational campaign about the resources available. These include free compliance assistance for small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as each state’s free On-Site Consultation Program for employers. Also available is the agency’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs.

Consider screening workers for heat stress when index hits 85 degree

A threshold for moderate occupational heat risks starts at a heat index of 91° F, but that “might not be sufficiently protective,” according to an analysis, which suggests that when wet globe bulb temperature is unavailable, a heat index of 85° F could be used to screen for hazardous workplace environmental heat.

Free stickers on trenching safety offered

A new sticker intended to raise awareness of trenching safety reminds workers to “slope it, shore it, shield it.” The free stickers are available in English and Spanish.

Proposed rule exempting certain railroad work, machines from parts of crane standard

A proposed rule that would grant exemptions to its Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard for work on or along railroad tracks was published in the July 19 Federal Register and comments will be accepted until September 1st.

New publications

Updated webpage on avian influenza

The updated Avian Influenza page provides information on protecting workers in egg and poultry production, veterinary facilities, pet shops, and food servicing who may be exposed to infectious birds or poultry products.

Michigan OSHA clarifies requirements for eyewashes and safety showers

MIOSHA released a new Fact Sheet, Eyewashes and Safety Showers.

Cal/OSHA publishes information on the hotel housekeeping musculoskeletal injury program

A fact sheet and poster is now available.

Enforcement notes

California (Cal OSHA)

  • Marine cargo handler, SSA Pacific Inc, was issued $205,235 in fines for six willful and serious safety violations following the investigation of a fatal forklift accident at the Port of San Diego.
  • Commerce-based Pixior, LLC, faces 11 citations and $97,430 in penalties after a worker was struck by a forklift.

Florida

  • North Florida Shipyards Inc., a shipbuilding and repair company, faces $271,061 in proposed penalties for multiple violations after an employee suffered fatal injuries at its Commodores Point facility in Jacksonville.
  • Bakery Management Corp., doing business as Bakery Corp., was cited for exposing employees to caught-in, fall, and electrical hazards. The Miami-based commercial bakery faces proposed penalties of $67,261.
  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction, Bluewater Construction Solutions Inc. was cited for exposing employees to dangerous falls at two south Florida worksites. The Melbourne-based residential framing contractor faces proposed penalties of $48,778.
  • BC Direct Corp., doing business as Robotray, a Miami-based manufacturer of bakery rack loaders, was cited for exposing employees to struck-by, electrical shock, fire, and explosion hazards and faces $42,682 in proposed penalties.

Georgia

  • Dupont Yard Inc. was cited after an employee suffered a partial hand amputation and other injuries while working on unguarded machinery in Homerville. The wooden post manufacturer faces $109,548 in proposed penalties.

Illinois

  • Cleary Pallet Sales Inc., a Genoa-based pallet manufacturer, faces proposed penalties of $216,253 after 10 employees required emergency medical treatment for carbon monoxide exposure, which was nearly 10 times the permissible exposure limit and other violations.

Michigan (Michigan OSHA)

  • Five citations and $77,600 in penalties were issued to Woods Carpentry, Inc., for exposing workers to fall hazards.

Missouri

  • Karrenbrock Excavating LLC was cited for allowing two employees to work in an unprotected trench while installing sewers. Proposed penalties are $189,221.

New York

  • Timberline Hardwood Floors LLC was cited for willful and serious violations of multiple workplace safety and health standards. The Fulton custom hardwood-flooring manufacturer faces proposed penalties totaling $182,917.

North Carolina

  • Belhaven Shipyard and Marina Inc., doing business as TowBoatUS River Forest, faces $11,640 in proposed penalties after an employee drowned when a towboat capsized while operating in a winter storm.

Wisconsin

  • Carlos Ketz, who operates as Ketz Roofing, was cited for the sixth time in the past five years for exposing employees to falls. Proposed penalties total $48,777.

For more information.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com