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How to Keep Utility Workers Safe in the Heat

Ah, the summer months. This time of the year usually consists of swimming, barbecuing, maybe some visits to the lake. Most people seem to look forward to the hotter months of the year�until they find themselves sweating in the intense heat as they work.

The CDC reports that between 1999 and 2010, there were 7,415 heat-related deaths. For some, the summer months are prime vacation days. For others, this time of the year is dreaded because they have to work in extreme heat.

Working in utilities is not an easy job. Keeping our water clean and pumping or dealing with wastewater sometimes causes workers to be exposed to high temperatures. But without these utilities, we wouldn�t have access to a clean water supply. For this reason, we need to make sure workers stay safe to avoid heat-related illness.

According to OSHA, �employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat.� If you know that workers may be subject to unusual heat, it is your responsibility to keep them safe.

Here are some ways you can help utility workers avoid heat-related illnesses:

  • Provide plenty of safe drinking water for workers: Encourage workers to intake water frequently and in small amounts.
  • Maintain a cool working environment when possible: If workers are required to spend time in a building or indoor area, make sure air conditioning is functioning. If air conditioning isn�t an option, provide fans and make sure the area is properly ventilated.
  • Rotate jobs so that workers can take plenty of breaks: Arrange for workers to alternate to avoid overexposure to the sun.
  • Monitor the weather and plan ahead: When possible (and we realize it isn�t always), try to anticipate high temperatures and schedule outdoor work or maintenance for cooler days.
  • Allow workers opportunities to build their tolerance for working in the heat: Adaptation to heat happens at a different rate for everyone. Give workers the freedom to evaluate their own tolerance level and to make adjustments accordingly.
  • Train workers on proper prevention strategies and identification of symptoms: OSHA provides a fact sheet that can be used as a quick guide for working in high-heat conditions.
  • Provide light-colored clothing and sunscreen for workers: In addition to these measures, you may also consider having water on hand for dampening clothes and the body to keep high temperatures down.

Remember, your utility may have areas that operate at a higher temperature. Be aware that those areas are at a higher risk for extreme temperatures and workers in those areas should be monitored more closely for heat-related illness.

If you do see signs of heat-related illness, take appropriate measures immediately. Here are some warnings signs to watch out for:

  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fainting or fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Cool skin

OSHA provides a chart to help you recognize symptoms of heat illness and recommends what you should do to address them.

Remember, heat-related illnesses are entirely preventable. By providing your workers with the appropriate training and resources, you can ensure the safety of your employees without taking away from your productivity. For additional information, check out OSHA�s resources for working in extreme heat.

Check out our other tips to prepare your utility for flooding.

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