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How to protect your workers from heat illness

The last thing your small business needs is to be responsible for a serious health issue for two reasons: you sincerely care for your employees and you want to limit workers' compensation claims. The best way to avoid litigation and financial trouble is through prevention.

One common safety hazard is heat stress, which can cause heat rash, heat cramps, heat syncope, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor published a report that revealed statistics from 2014: 2,630 workers experienced heat-related illness and 18 died. If your employees work outside in the hot summer months or indoors with a local heat source, take the necessary steps to protect them from heat illness and your business from liability.

Heat illness is simple to prevent by following these guidelines:

· Monitor the weather, scheduling work and rest periods accordingly. Pay attention not only to the temperature but also to high humidity and direct exposure to the sun.

· Provide adequate hydration and frequent rest breaks with rest areas in shaded or air-conditioned locations. Encourage workers to drink water and require rest breaks. Let workers acclimate to new environmental conditions over a period of one to two weeks. This strategy applies to various types of workers: those new to the industry, new to your company or returning after an absence.

· Have workers wear clothing that is light-colored, loose and breathable. If safety gear is necessary, understand that it can increase the risk of heat illness.You will need pay close attention to those using protective clothing and equipment.

· Train both your supervisors and your workers on how to prevent, recognize and treat heat stress. Review this information regularly.

· Be prepared to handle any heat-related illness that may occur. Proper medical attention should be quickly available.

There are many other steps you can take depending on the industry of your business. Consider consulting with an industrial hygienist to check that your workplace is safe.

Put your plan into action

As the employer, you are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment and following safety rules. Therefore, it's important that someone, whether you or another manager, oversees implementing your prevention plan and adjusting it as needed. If you allow complacency, you may find yourself facing litigation due to an avoidable tragedy.

Employers concerned about minimizing health and legal risks are advised to contact an attorney to develop a plan that addresses environmental concerns.

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