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Steps employers can take to protect employees from the heat

With the return of spring and warm weather, employers need to be aware of the risks that sun, heat, and humidity can pose for their workers and take steps to protect them. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that thousands of workers succumb to heat-related illnesses each year, and in 2012, more than 30 workers died from such illnesses, including a sanitation worker in New Jersey. Although OSHA does not have a specific heat illness prevention standard, such illness is typically covered under the General Duty clause that requires employers to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards.

Concern about heat-related illness is leading OSHA to increase enforcement and raise penalties for infractions in this area. The agency recommends that employers evaluate their work sites and institute measures to protect workers from heat illness. Although high temperatures, humidity and direct sun can affect all workers, these conditions are particularly risky for workers who have not built up a tolerance for them. Employers are encouraged to give employees time to acclimatize by gradually increasing workloads and allowing for frequent water and shade breaks.

All employees who work outdoors in hot conditions should have access to water, shade, and rest during their shifts. Employers are also encouraged to adjust work schedules in accord with weather conditions, encourage employees to wear light-colored clothing, monitor workers for symptoms of heat illness, and train workers and supervisors in heat-illness prevention and first aid.

A person who has experienced a heat-related workplace injury should be eligible for a basic worker's compensation claim. An attorney may be able to help victims or their families determine if such a claim is warranted and assist them in getting proper compensation.

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