Many nursery workers are exposed to heat on the job. Outdoor operations conducted in hot weather and direct sun increase the risk of heat-related illness in exposed workers.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure every year, and some even die. These illnesses and deaths are preventable.
There are currently no specific OSHA standards for occupational heat exposure. However, Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that "is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees."
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. It does this mainly through circulating blood to the skin and through sweating.
When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. Blood circulated to the skin cannot lose its heat. Sweating then becomes the main way the body cools off. But sweating is effective only if the humidity level is low enough to allow evaporation, and if the fluids and salts that are lost are adequately replaced.
If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body's core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. As the body continues to store heat, the person begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often fainting and even death if the person is not cooled down.
Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention.
Exposure to heat can also increase the risk of injuries because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and burns from hot surfaces or steam.
OSHA has many resources and fact sheets employers can use to reduce the risk of heat-related illness. Learn more here.
InterWest Insurance Services created a risk management plan for agricultural companies to follow for heat stress. Follow these steps to reduce the danger of heat-related illnesses at your nursery.
Planning and Monitoring
• Have a written emergency action plan: - Determine a means of effective communication between supervisors and employees. - Establish procedures for contacting emergency response services and administering first aid and train employees on them.
• Monitor for weather events or major changes in temperature throughout the work day.
• Establish and maintain communications between employees and supervisors.
• Close monitoring by supervisors should be supplemented by peer monitoring by employees.
• If the temperature reaches or exceeds 95°F, additional steps must be taken to monitor employees for water intake and symptoms of heat illness.
• Closely observe new employees during their first 14 days of employment in high heat areas as they acclimatize.
• Always staff the work area with at least one person capable of administering first aid.
• Provide shaded areas large enough to accommodate all employees during meal, rest, or recovery periods. This can be achieved through rotation of employee breaks.
• Locate shaded areas and drinking water as close as feasible to the areas where employees are working.
• Provide employees with one quart of water minimum per hour for the entirety of shift.
• If any employee feels the need for protection from overheating, allow a rest period of at least five minutes.
• Encourage employees to stay in the shaded areas during rest periods.
• Acclimatize employees by having them work for short periods of time in the heat and gradually increase their time in the heat over a two-week period.
• Use cooling fans or air-conditioning if possible.
• Employees should wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes.
• Employees should avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and heavy meals.