Summer is here and with it come challenges for employers in helping employees stay healthy as we navigate summer heat and the beginning of fire season here in the Bitterroot. Consider the tips below in helping employees beat the heat and stay healthy while they work.
It is not uncommon for employees to want to work through their breaks, and people often don’t recognize the signs of heat stress until they’re experiencing it. Employers are responsible for mandating breaks for employees and making sure that they take them on a regular basis. The hotter and prolonged the weather, the more frequent the breaks should be. OSHA recommends that whenever possible, employees take breaks in cool areas which will help them recover more quickly from the heat. It is not just employees working outdoors that will need recovery breaks from the heat. Any employee that is working around a heat source i.e. stoves, furnaces, etc. will need regular access to a cool location where they can cool down and hydrate before returning to work. Employers should also remember that employees who are required to use PPE, will experience heat stress more quickly and these employees will need to be monitored carefully to ensure that they stay hydrated and are taking regular breaks as well.
When navigating the summer heat OSHA reminds employers that they have a responsibility in ensuring that employees stay hydrated and have access to water during hot weather. It is not sufficient to tell employees to bring their own water and hydration. Employers are expected to provide water for their employees and for jobs lasting longer than two hours employers should also provide some form of electrolyte drinks for employees as well. Provided hydration options should be readily available and close to the employee worksite for easy access and all employees should be aware where the hydration is located.
Oh, the allergies! In the Bitterroot, fire season brings understandable concerns about forest fires, the safety of our homes and loved ones, allergies, and physical reactions to the particulates from those fires. A significant number of employees will experience some sort of negative physical reaction from exposure to smoke and ashes. Employers are expected to provide a healthy and safe work environment for employees. Offering a variety of options to help control their symptoms while at work will go a long way in ensuring the health and productivity of their employees. Consider providing HEPA filter units in the workplace to keep the air as clean as possible. If an employee would benefit, providing a suitable PPE mask to help filter out the particulates in their environment might prove to be helpful. Employers can purchase and make available a variety of OTC allergy medications for employee use as needed when their symptoms crop up. Employers should also keep in mind that certain medical conditions caused by these particulates might qualify employees for FMLA protections as well.
By Deborah Wade