The August heat presents challenges for employees who don’t have the luxury of working in comfortable office settings – such as manufacturing workers and outdoor employees. Specifically, heat can impair mental alertness, physical performance, and safety, and may also lead to more conflict. Here are three ways you can help employees “beat the heat” to stay productive and safe.
Break up the day.
Breaks are one of the best ways to help employees beat the heat. Offer employees a few extra breaks during extreme heat conditions and allow them to take a break whenever they feel extremely overheated. Additionally, use earlier or later shifts (if possible) to minimize working during the heat of mid-day.
While employees are on breaks, consider finding useful opportunities for them. For example, some local companies set up learning opportunities for employees to access when they are on break, or when they get too fatigued or hot to work. Organizations create learning rooms where employees can access self-directed learning on topics that would be useful for them – either work-related or pertaining to stress management, fatigue, and wellness. These breaks are an ideal time for employees to train.
Help them stay cool.
Consider providing water and other cold beverages to help your workforce cool off during their breaks. Many employers stock coolers or refrigerators with water, Gatorade (or drinks with electrolytes), and other fluids for employees to freely access. This ensures that workers stay hydrated, thereby minimizing their risk of illness or injury on the job. Some employers also offer “cool treats” on occasion to employees. This can be a great morale booster and shows special appreciation for employees working amidst hot conditions.
There are several other ways to help employees stay cool. Use recovery areas, such as air-conditioned rooms and enclosures. Add as much ventilation, air-cooling, and insulation as possible to the work environment. Additionally, invest in thermally conditioned clothing for employees such as ice vests, water-cooled garments, and apparel with self-contained air-conditioning.
Be aware that you may also have to help employees “cool off” not only physically, but also in an emotional sense. The discomfort heat causes can enhance irritability and anger, creating more conflict. Employees may fight more with their coworkers or lose patience easily, as a result of the intense physical conditions in which they are working.
Minimize heat risks.
Educate employees on the signs of heat exhaustion and other heat related injuries and illnesses. Make them aware of the symptoms to look for when on the job during hot conditions. Additionally, be aware of any employees that are more at risk of heat related issues (i.e. employees with health issues, older employees, pregnant women, etc.) and monitor them a bit more closely on the job or make special arrangements to reduce risks. Also, consider assigning more workers or using relief staff to help reduce heat stress.
Additionally, be aware of potential safety issues that arise during hot weather. Safety procedures have a tendency to be overlooked when heat persists. Personal protective equipment may become uncomfortable to wear; sweat may cause hands to slip; among other issues. Find ways to maintain safety and reduce risks of work injuries.
Recently, OSHA created an application for SmartPhones which allows employees and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work sites to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries. The application provides users with information about specific precautions they can take to reduce their risks. This application is part of OSHA’s on-going efforts to deal with the dangers of extreme heat, and can be downloaded here.
While all of these precautions and actions are beneficial to help employees “beat the heat,” most importantly, be sympathetic and understanding with employees who work in uncomfortable conditions. Make sure to ask them how they are doing throughout the day and express consideration for the challenges they are experiencing. Do everything you can as an HR professional or manager to support these employees on the job.
Preferred Partners ERC partners with a number of organizations that can provide support to employers in the areas of OSHA safety training and compliance, health and safety training, workers compensation, and even workplace water solutions.
ERC’s e-Learning Center provides thousands of self-directed courses for employees to access at an affordable cost. These courses are ideal for employers looking to provide learning opportunities for employees to access on breaks. In addition, to learn more about other training and learning opportunities offered by ERC, please click here.