Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Are you prepared to keep your workers safe from heat?


Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.

Summer is here and so are high temperatures for much of the country.

According to OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 of the past 19 years have been the hottest on average, and the three-year average of heat-related fatalities among workers has doubled since the early 1990s. Heat-related illnesses, injuries and fatalities are known to be underreported, so the annual totals may be much higher.

In response, OSHA has increased its enforcement initiatives related to heat. One step the agency took was to launch a National Emphasis Program focusing on heat exposure in the workplace. Additionally, OSHA has taken the first steps in developing a permanent standard on heat-related illness prevention.

The best way to prepare your workplace and protect your employees is to assess the tasks or jobs that could expose them to excessive heat. A general rule of thumb is to identify activities that expose employees to heat above 85° F for 15 minutes or more. A heat-related illness prevention program should be developed for all worksites where employees are exposed to heat hazards. This program should, at a minimum, include:
Procedures for the provision of water and access to shade or cooling areas. Proper hydration and easy access to shade or cool-down areas are essential to reduce the likelihood of a heat-related illness. A defined process and responsibilities for accessing hydration and cooling areas are important.
Understanding exposure. Employees and supervisors should be trained to recognize symptoms of various heat-related illnesses and how to respond to them.
Acclimatization. Seventy percent of heat-related deaths occur during the first few days of exposure, and half occur on the first day of work in high-heat conditions. An effective acclimatization plan allows workers’ bodies to adapt to the heat and reduce the likelihood of a heat-related illness.
Heat-specific emergency response procedures. Treating heat-related illnesses, especially heatstroke, must be prompt and effective. An effective worksite-specific emergency response plan will ensure proper precautions and provisions are in place for treatment.

Frontline supervisors play a critical role in ensuring the effectiveness of your heat-related illness prevention program and keeping workers safe from them.

Supervisors should monitor the conditions in the workplace and be empowered to quickly respond to excessive heat exposure.

Moreover, they must create an environment where workers feel comfortable raising concerns about heat exposure.

An effective way to create this environment is to regularly interact with employees both in group settings and individually.

These interactions should involve:

  • Asking about heat exposures.
  • Soliciting ideas to mitigate heat exposure.
  • Reminding them of components of the heat-related illness prevention program.
  • Determining any obstacles that might exist to the effective implementation of the heat-related illness prevention program.

By implementing a comprehensive heat-related illness prevention program and empowering frontline leaders and workers, everyone can stay cool – and safe.


This article represents the views of the authors and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

Jace Butterworth is a certified industrial hygienist and certified safety professional in DEKRA’s consulting practice. His extensive environmental, health and safety management experience spans manufacturing, aerospace, petrochemical and pharmaceutical/biotech.

Angelica Grindle is vice president in DEKRA’s consulting practice. She specializes in the application of behavioral science to improve workplace safety at all organizational levels. Her industry experience includes construction, mining, manufacturing, utilities, oil and gas, automotive, paper, and health care.



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