Summer is a popular time for many facility managers to catch up on building maintenance that may have been placed on the back burner during the winter. But as the mercury rises this season, so too does the risk of heat-related injury for maintenance workers who are spending lots of time in hot and humid conditions. Facility managers should be aware of the risks that excessive heat can pose, and must take action to provide their maintenance staff with a season-safe work environment.
Warming up to heat-related dangers
The rise in temperatures and humidity that comes with the summertime can pose a major risk to workers, especially those who spend a good deal of time outside. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, intense physical labor such as that conducted by maintenance staff is a specific concern, as such activities can raise body temperatures above what we are naturally able to manage through sweating. As a result, worker safety is at risk - Today's Facility Manager reported on OSHA statistics indicating that 31 workers died and over 4,000 suffered serious illness as a direct result of heat in 2012. OSHA isn't willing to sweat such instances out - the administration has issued citations to employers who do not provide adequate weather-safe accommodations for their maintenance staff.
Know the signs, keep your cool
Heat-related illness is particularly dangerous as it can creep up almost unnoticed. The Mayo Clinic identified some common symptoms to look out for. If any workers experience nausea, headache, confusion or heat cramps, this may be the beginning of heat stroke - a condition in which the body temperature rises to dangerous levels - and preventative measures should be taken immediately.
Ideally, workers should be kept out of extreme temperatures if at all possible. But in instances where that can't be avoided, strict hot-weather policies should be firmly established and enforced. OSHA outlined steps that every worker should take, and managers and employers are responsible for enforcing these guidelines to prevent injury and illness. Employers should provide ample opportunity for maintenance staff to take rest breaks to avoid overheating. Drinking water is one of the most important measures workers can take, and OSHA recommended drinking water every 15 minutes to prevent dehydration. For longer multi-day projects, the first day or so should be taken slowly, to allow for acclimatization - building up a steady tolerance to heat - so that work can be carried out safely for longer.