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Protecting your employees when temps soar

By Connie Lannan

August 8, 2023

Jonathan Mitchell, left, and Sam Farb, team leads and tent installers at Expo Events, take a break from the heat under a pop-up canopy, complete with chairs, fans and plenty of cold water.

Jonathan Mitchell, left, and Sam Farb, team leads and tent installers at Expo Events, take a break from the heat under a pop-up canopy, complete with chairs, fans and plenty of cold water.

In July, a good portion of California and Nevada was covered in a heat dome. On Sunday, July 16, records were broken, with Death Valley, Calif., setting a new daily record of 128 degrees and Las Vegas shattering its record with 116 degrees. Summer is not over, and excessive heat can be deadly. So how can you protect your employees?

Jared Medaris, CERP, president, Expo Events, Fresno, Calif., who serves as ARA of California president, has been implementing his operation’s heat procedures.

“The buzzwords are ‘water, rest and shade.’ Our procedures are that each crew takes plenty of water for the day — a 5-gal. jug for each crew member. We set up an E-Z UP® pop-up canopy and chairs at each job site for shade. We encourage each team to take extra breaks. Our teams are also encouraged to drink water every 10 -15 minutes,” he says.

Medaris also has his employees in a team, big or small, “pair up as ‘heat buddies. Heat buddies are tasked with watching over each other, holding each other accountable for rest and water breaks and monitoring each other for signs of heat exhaustion,” he says.

Despite his team’s best efforts, “we had one employee who works on our linen iron who had to go to the doctor due to heat illness. Luckily, she was called out by her coworker who noticed a change in her behavior. We caught it soon enough that she only suffered from mild dehydration. She got an IV of fluids and was able to return to work the next day,” Medaris says.

Interstate 80 Forklift uses large fans to cool down the shop.

Interstate 80 Forklift uses large fans to cool down the shop.

Like Medaris, Aurelio Sierra, president, Yennis Party Rentals, Orange, Calif., who serves on the ARA of California board, trains his team members on the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. He also packs his trucks with ice and cold water for the routes. “Our industry demands dependability. This entails our crew members being out in almost any kind of weather. Our crew leaders make sure our crew members take multiple short breaks to hydrate en route,” he says.

Michelle Strand, president, Interstate 80 Forklift, Vacaville, Calif., who serves as ARA of California secretary, also takes precautions. “We offer safety meeting topics on the signs of heatstroke and prevention, the importance of drinking lots of water and taking breaks in a shaded area, etc. We post ways to protect yourself from the heat by the time clock, have color urination charts posted in each stall in the bathroom showing the difference between whether you are hydrated or dehydrated, and we provide sunblock, bottled water and reusable neck cooling scarfs to our employees as well as large cooling fans in the shop,” she says.

Employers are required to be proactive: Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” This includes “heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.”

California’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard “requires employers to provide training, water, shade and planning. A temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit triggers the requirement.” Click here for the full text of the California heat standard.

Heat-related illness — heat rash, heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion and heatstroke — can come on quickly and the symptoms may vary in different individuals.

OSHA lists the following as possible signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Thirst
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Elevated body temperature or fast heart rate

It lists the signs of heatstroke as:

  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Heavy sweating
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate

Heatstroke can be fatal if emergency medical attention is not provided promptly. If any of your employees exhibit these symptoms, cool the person immediately and call 911.

Help your team understand the signs and symptoms: The American Rental Association’s (ARA) RentalU offers free resources to help you and your team members learn how to identify the hazardous health effects of high heat, methods to prevent those effects and what to do if a coworker exhibits symptoms of heat stress.

Don’t take chances with the heat. Be proactive, have a plan in place, train your employees, acclimate them to the elements and provide the resources to help them stay safe. Taking these measures could be the difference between life and death.