Mhlnews 3849 Heatwave

Protect Employees From the Heat: It’s the Law

June 12, 2015
A look at OSHA's recommendations to employers for helping their warehouse employees keep their cool.

In recent years the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stepped up its scrutiny of heat-related illnesses suffered by employees. Some state agencies have done the same—with a special focus on warehouse operations.

Some unhappy examples of the heat illness issue in warehousing have been widely disseminated by the media. It was even raised on the CBS TV series “Undercover Boss,” where one CEO had to order his warehouse manager to distribute bottled water to employers, which had been stopped as a cost-cutting measure.

Part of the problem stems from the very nature of the warehouse business. Unless the facilities are temperature-controlled because of the nature of the products stored, it is prohibitively expensive to air condition most warehouses. And if you have ever worked a full shift in one of them in the summer, you know how beastly they can get.

OSHA’s recommendations to employers:

  • Designate someone to oversee and enforce a heat illness prevention program.
  • Provide an air-conditioned area close to the work and schedule frequent rest breaks. Implement more frequent breaks during the first week in high-heat conditions and establish how often and when breaks should be taken.
  • Provide workers with plenty of cool drinking water in convenient, visible locations close to the work area. Remind workers to drink water before they become thirsty and about every 15 minutes. OSHA thinks one cup every 15 minutes is a good rule of thumb.
  • Make work schedule changes to reduce extended heat exposure. Examples include scheduling more physically demanding work during cooler times of day and less physically demanding work during the warmer times; rotating workers or using split shifts; and stopping work if control methods are inadequate or unavailable when heat illness risk is very high.
  • Encourage employees to wear or provide employees with light-colored and permeable clothing and consider whether other controls can be implemented.
  • Monitor workers for symptoms of heat exposure and encourage them to report any they experience. Have workers partner with each other and watch for signs of heat-related illness in co-workers. 
  • Train workers and supervisors about hazards leading to heat stress and how to recognize it in themselves and others, how to prevent it and appropriate first-aid procedures.
  • Implement an emergency action plan and know what to do if someone experiences symptoms of a heat-related illness. 

Stricter in California

Three states currently have their own heat-related work regulations: California, Minnesota and Washington State. California’s—augmented by changes effective May 1—are even stricter than federal standards.

Under the strengthened rules, in addition to other requirements California employers now must:

  • Not only provide water, but guarantee it is free, fresh, pure and suitably cool.
  • During “high heat” situations (where the temperature hits 95 degrees or more), have one supervisor for every 20 or fewer employees, a mandatory buddy system, and regular electronic device communication with each employee.
  • Designate at least one employee on each worksite authorized to call for emergency medical services, or to instruct other employees to call.
  • Hold pre-shift meetings on each shift during high heat conditions to review procedures, encourage employees to drink plenty of water, and remind them of their right to take a cool-down rest break.
  • Adopt new training procedures for a heat wave, defined as temperatures over 80 degrees or anytime the temperature is 10 degrees higher than the average high in the preceding five days.
  • Include in employee training information about the employer’s responsibility to provide water and cool-down rests, employees’ rights, first aid, emergency response procedures, and methods of acclimatization.