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Employers can implement heat-illness prevention programs

Thousands of workers in the U.S. get sick each year from excessive heat exposure. Minnesota is one of the few states with prevention standards for heat-related illness. Employers should evaluate their workplaces and develop a plan to prevent workplace heat-related illnesses.

Measures that employers can take include designating one individual to be responsible for enforcing a heat illness prevention program and providing training to all employees regarding the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and the protocol to use when a worker exhibits the symptoms. Employers can also adjust work schedules so that the most strenuous work is done in the cooler part of the day.

One of the most serious issues that employers should address is acclimatization. Individuals develop a tolerance for a hot environment gradually. A new employee or an employee returning from leave should be exposed to a hot workplace over a period of several days, with the employee spending more time in the heat each day. An OSHA report found that a failure to provide acclimatization for new employees and for employees returning from leave of more than one week was the factor most closely associated with death due to workplace heat-related illness.

Allowing frequent breaks for drinking cool water and resting is a relatively easy practice for employers to incorporate into the workday. An individual who works in a hot environment and has suffered a heat-related illness may need to consult an attorney. The attorney may be able to investigate to determine whether the illness was the result of the employer's failure to meet the prevention standards. If so, the attorney may be able to provide assistance in filing an occupational injury claim in order to receive compensation for medical costs and lost earnings due to the heat-related illness.

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