The advice for hot weather safety is fairly straightforward: drink water and rest in the shade. But with forecasters predicting a hotter-than-average summer amid a global pandemic, employers will have to adapt their strategies for keeping workers safe.
Temperatures have already hit triple-digits in parts of the country, and experts at the World Meteorological Association (WMO) say 2021 could be the warmest year on record. Scorching temperatures, along with high humidity, sun exposure, and strenuous activity can all increase the risks of heat-related injuries and illnesses.
And while summer weather and the vaccine rollout may help slow the spread of coronavirus, masks and social distancing are still required in some situations.
Combined with the extreme heat, that adds a degree of difficulty for employers and workers. How do you wear a mask when it’s suffocating outside? And how can you stay six feet apart when you’re sharing a break room or tent?
Here are 10 tips to keep workers safe and comfortable in hot weather — adapted for the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Train employees on the potential hazards of hot environments and how to prevent them.
- Teach workers to recognize the signs of heat-related illness. Encourage employees to keep an eye on their co-workers and report concerns immediately.
- Use a mobile safety app to enable employees to submit heat-related near miss and risk observations. This can help prevent future incidents by alerting safety managers to unsafe conditions like excessive heat or lack of shade.
- Make the work environment cooler with reflective shades, cooling fans, and increased ventilation. In addition to helping employees stay cool, better ventilation may help slow the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC.
- Provide a cool, shady location where employees can take breaks from the heat while maintaining six feet of distance. This might mean setting up several smaller cooling stations instead of one large station.
- Encourage unvaccinated employees to continue using cloth face coverings when social distancing is not possible, but look for a breathable material like cotton to help keep cool.
- Workers should hydrate frequently, but avoid energy drinks. These may lead to dehydration and make it harder for the body to regulate temperature.
- Provide fresh drinking water in visible locations. Use hands-free dispensers or single-use water bottles to minimize the opportunities for germs to spread.
- Remind workers to eat regular meals and snacks. Water-rich foods like tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, and watermelon can help you stay cool and hydrated. On the other hand, heavy or greasy foods can leave you feeling lethargic.
- Perform periodic checks to identify heat-related risks and ensure workers have adequate training and protective equipment. Again, mobile apps can be useful to streamline this process and allow checks to be completed remotely.