Understanding Workplace Temperature Regulations and Keeping Employees Safe
As an employer, it’s important to keep each worker safe from all potentially dangerous conditions while on the job. While that includes common workplace hazards such as heavy machinery and unguarded heights, other risks are more subtle. Extreme temperatures, for example, is a potentially underrated source of danger.
Whether workers are dealing with heat or cold stress, workplace temperature should be a major consideration when determining schedules, issuing personal protective equipment (PPE) and providing training.
By checking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and recommendations, you can learn how to give your employees protection that meets and exceeds workplace temperature regulations.
Dealing with Extreme Temperatures: Heat
Heat exposure can quickly take a toll on a worker’s health and workplace safety. In fact, according to OSHA, the first few days in a hot environment are often the most dangerous, because the body has not yet built any tolerance to the conditions. OSHA explained that 50-70% of warm-weather outdoor fatalities happen directly after employees have begun work.
Heat exposure isn’t just an outdoor problem. OSHA lists a number of workplaces where employees may find themselves at risk of heat exposure and heat hazards. Indoor spaces range from boiler rooms and manufacturing plants to warehouses and kitchens. Outdoors, jobs such as landscaping, construction and agriculture can be dangerous.
Supervisors and team leaders have an important role to play to keep their workers safe from heat illness. By setting reasonable shift lengths with frequent breaks, making water and other fluids available and quickly identifying signs of heat exposure, managers can keep their teams both safe and productive in heat.
When assessing what working temperature is too hot to continue, OSHA recommends that leaders use methods that go beyond just consulting a thermometer. This is because humidity, direct sunlight, clothing types and more can combine to adjust risk. Level of physical exertion and personal health risks also contribute. Having a heat app and a wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) meter on hand can help supervisors with heat illness prevention.
Dealing with Extreme Temperatures: Cold
In addition to warnings and procedures around extreme heat, OSHA maintains similar workplace temperature regulations for cold settings. Since it’s more likely for a busy factory floor or warehouse to be too hot than too cold in many cases, OSHA’s rules around cold focus heavily on outdoor exposure risks. When the seasons change, every employer needs to be sure their employees have adequate training and PPE to deal with the cold, as well as reasonable work schedules that don’t put them in danger.
One of the most important things to remember about extreme cold is that it comes with related risks, such as ice accumulation on surfaces. Workers operating at heights have to be especially cautious when their workspaces are icy, as do employees tasked with carrying heavy loads. Operating vehicles is also dangerous when conditions are cold and icy.
OSHA noted that certain occupations come with an extra risk of encountering cold stress. These include outdoor cleanup crews, emergency responders, landscapers, transportation workers, baggage handlers and more. As with heat stress risk, supervisors should keep a close watch on conditions to guard against extreme conditions, such as storms. They should also ensure workers have access to PPE and warm nonalcoholic beverages, and that they are able to communicate effectively with team leaders and each other.
Safe work practices and environmental controls should be supplemented with employee training. When supervisors and individual workers understand the dangers of cold exposure and signs of cold stress, they can stay safe from potential danger.
It’s never been easier to train your whole staff in the necessary practices to protect them from cold or heat exposure. This is because digital, video-based training materials are more available than ever before. Since these courses are delivered online, you can quickly and affordably train your whole team, even if workers are spread across several locations or work different shifts.
Supervisors and employees should know the signs of temperature exposure, heat stress and cold stress, as well as the best prevention and first aid methods for each situation. With this information in mind, it’s easier to maintain a safe workplace, from environmental controls to everyday practices, even when temperatures become high or low.