As temperatures continue to rise globally, the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries is not confined to outdoor environments. Indoor workers are increasingly vulnerable to the dangers of excessive heat, which can lead to serious health issues and even fatalities if proper precautions are not taken.

The Risks of Working in High Temperatures

Extreme heat can cause a range of health problems, from heat exhaustion and heat stroke to more severe conditions like kidney failure and heart disease. Workers in various indoor environments, such as commercial kitchens, manufacturing plants, and warehouses, often face significant heat exposure due to the lack of climate control and the presence of heat-generating equipment like ovens and furnaces.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 36 work-related deaths due to environmental heat exposure in 2021 alone. From 2011 to 2020, there were approximately 3,389 heat-related injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work each year, highlighting the ongoing risk posed by high temperatures in the workplace​ (BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics))​​ (USAFacts)​.

Current Statistics on Heat-Related Workplace Injuries and Fatalities

The most recent data reveals a troubling trend. Nearly 40 U.S. workers die annually due to environmental heat exposure, with thousands more suffering injuries. Heat is responsible for at least 170,000 work-related injuries and as many as 2,000 fatalities each year, making it one of the top five causes of workplace injuries and deaths​ (OSHA)​​ (Grist)​.

In 2020, the BLS recorded 1,940 cases in the private sector and 390 cases in state and local government where injuries or illnesses due to environmental heat exposure resulted in days away from work. Industries such as trade, transportation, and utilities, as well as construction, reported the highest numbers of heat-related injury cases​ (USAFacts)​.

Steps to Mitigate Heat Risks in Indoor Work Environments

Employers can take several measures to protect their workers from the dangers of excessive heat:

  1. Implement Heat Action Plans: Develop comprehensive plans that include regular breaks, access to cool drinking water, and shaded or air-conditioned rest areas.
  2. Monitor Indoor Temperatures: Use industrial fans and air conditioning to maintain safe temperatures, especially in areas with heavy machinery and heat-generating processes.
  3. Educate Employees: Train workers to recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses and the importance of staying hydrated and taking regular breaks.
  4. Emergency Response Procedures: Establish clear protocols for responding to heat-related emergencies, including first aid measures and emergency contacts.

OSHA’s New Heat Standard

In response to the growing threat of heat-related workplace injuries and fatalities, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is advancing a new heat standard aimed at protecting workers from excessive heat exposure. This initiative is part of OSHA’s broader effort to address the impact of climate change on worker safety.

The proposed rule, currently in the advanced stages of rulemaking, seeks to establish clear guidelines and requirements for employers to manage heat risks. Key elements of the proposed standard include:

Heat Hazard Identification and Assessment: Employers will be required to identify and assess heat hazards in their workplaces, considering factors such as temperature, humidity, and workload.

Heat Hazard Prevention and Control: The standard will mandate the implementation of preventive measures, such as providing access to water, shade, and rest breaks.

Worker Training: Employers must educate workers on the risks of heat exposure and the importance of taking preventive measures.

Medical Monitoring and Emergency Response: Procedures for monitoring workers’ health and responding to heat-related emergencies will be established to ensure prompt and effective medical care.

OSHA’s proposed heat standard is expected to significantly reduce the number of heat-related injuries and fatalities by providing a clear framework for employers to protect their workers. This effort is particularly important as extreme heat events become more frequent and severe due to climate change​ (Grist)​​ (​.

For more information and detailed statistics, please refer to the resources provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Stay safe and stay cool this summer!

About the Author

Jon Knight

Jon Knight leads the NASP Team’s media creation department. He has been involved with workplace safety training since 2017 with a focus on course creation. He also provides video production and voiceovers for NASP content.
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