Some may think unsafe workplace conditions are a concern of the past, but ensuring he safety of employees in various environments is still very much a top priority for workplaces in the U.S.
Renewing Efforts to Prevent Illness
In September 2021, the White House introduced a new initiative from the U.S. Department of Labor to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and reduce the dangers of ambient heat exposure in the workplace. The official release states that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “is implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard.” This effort will apply to both indoor and outdoor workspaces.
The release also cites that 43 workers died from heat-related illnesses in 2019, and at least 2,410 other workers suffered serious injuries and other illnesses. From October 2021 to January 2022, OSHA invited and collected worker feedback about observed dangers of heatstroke and effective countermethods for preventing illness in order to begin formulating a set of standards for the proposed legislation. The board will review submissions before finalizing their new regulations.
A heat-related illness or injury can cost an employee time for recovery and sometimes income due to missed work. It also puts the employer in a strained situation, having to find worktime coverage for the injured employee and potentially being responsible a variety of costs, from insurance fees to worker’s compensation. Unfortunately, climate change isn't making matters any better, as the global temperature continues to rise — an additional reason behind the U.S. Department of Labor's new initiative.
What New Regulations Could Mean for Industries
The revitalized efforts to prevent overheating workers will have a widespread impact on a variety of industries. For some facilities, these new standards could mean reevaluating current preventive measures or, conversely, beginning to work on a plan that ensures a safe environment for their employees. Some of the industries likely to be affected include:
Healthcare and Pharmacy: The emergence and persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its variants have already put extra strain on healthcare personnel; in addition to providing care for a higher number of patients than usual, staff are required to wear comprehensive personal protective equipment when treating those affected by the virus. This PPE can be incredibly warm, especially when working in a fast paced environment. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection states that PPE’s impermeability, weight, and mobility restrictiveness can increase the level of heat stress and thermal strain in healthcare workers. The researchers concluded that “providing a cooler working environment could alleviate some of the discomfort and impaired performance.”
Education: Though the regular school year usually concludes for the summer in late May or early June before the highest temperatures of the year, those in summer school or who attend schools in warmer climates are still at risk of experiencing the adverse effects of a poorly temperature-regulated school building and extreme outdoor temperatures. A 2020 study published in the American Economic Journal found that every 1-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average outdoor temperature over a school year reduces student learning by 1 percent. The study states climate change and the lack of air conditioning units in schools are contributing characteristics for this learning decrease. Excess heat has made teachers report students seeming sleepy or repeatedly leaving the room to refuel at the water fountain, resulting in significant class time losses
Warehouses and Manufacturing Facilities: Any job that requires manual labor, especially those in enclosed spaces with constantly moving machinery and workers, runs the risk of creating a hot environment that could increase the chances of employees acquiring heat-related illnesses. Some buildings might not have air conditioning and even feature a source of heat like a furnace or an oven — these, and the facilities that house them, need to be carefully temperature-monitored for operator safety. For workers in iron mills, foundries, or welding shops, the nature of the job is manipulating heat. These skilled laborers need to exercise caution and enforce highly regulated, ventilated environments to remain safe in their workplace.
Food Service: In a similar way, those involved in food service are highly familiar with fast-paced environments and excessively hot kitchens. Chefs, bakers, line cooks, and servers alike, employees that fulfill their job duties in the hot and often humid environment that is a working kitchen are especially susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and other such illnesses are common among employees who are on their feet, hovering over and around stoves and ovens for hours at a time.
Independent Construction: For those who hold jobs as independent contractors, the situation is a bit trickier, as their job sites and environments often routinely change. However, individual projects can still require intense, intricate work, often in stuffy situations. Some jobs require contractors to perform tasks in non-climate-controlled areas, like attics, crawl spaces, and even basements, often in heavy protective clothing. These factors can be a recipe for disaster; between 1992 and 2016, construction workers accounted for over one-third of heat-exposure-related deaths. For these reasons, job site managers are responsible for ensuring that each site is properly temperature-regulated to prevent workers from becoming ill on the job.
Get a Head Start on New Regulations
OSHA has an existing set of recommendations for regulating temperature in a variety of different jobs. To ensure that your facility is meeting these prerequisites, as well as whatever the new legislation might propose, consider your workplace safety strategy. The Primex OneVue Sense™ portfolio — specifically the OneVue Sense Indoor Air Quality monitoring — can help any workplace certify that they are effectively operating at recommended temperatures.
The sensors can be set to alert users when temperatures stray from an approved range, which could signal unsafe working conditions. These alerts are instant, allowing the appropriate people to take corrective action quickly, before a situation gets out of hand. Should dangerous conditions persist, businesses could be responsible for consequences like:
- Employee injuries as a result of workplace negligence and subsequent workers compensation.
- Fines from OSHA or other regulatory bodies for not following essential regulations.
- Negative press, should word spread about unsafe facility conditions.
OneVue Sense can help you avoid all of these circumstances. With the web-based OneVue® platform, approved users will be able to view temperatures and humidity levels from anywhere, whenever necessary, from any device capable of browsing the web. Additionally, should the need arise to prove that facility conditions were stable and constantly observed for safety, users can easily generate custom reports with temperature data pulled from a comprehensive history logged in the platform.
Protect your employees from heat-related illnesses and ensure your facility conforms to new and existing OSHA standards with Primex OneVue Sense. Contact us for more information!