By Dinah L. Choi and Christopher Morehead
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Given the dreary winter and spring we’ve experienced this year, it seems unfathomable that summer is rapidly approaching. For craft beer industry employers — particularly those with greater exposure to outdoor heat (looking at you, hop farmers) as well as those where indoor work is performed in hot areas (breweries and brewpubs) — it’s a good time to review your heat illness prevention plan with your employees and supervisors or establish one if you do not have one in place.
Six years ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) kicked off its heat illness prevention campaign by bringing much attention to the fact that heat illness can be deadly and providing tips for heat illness and fatality prevention. Neither federal nor Oregon OSHA have a standard for heat illness and rely on the General Duty Clause to cite employers it feels are not adequately protecting workers from the heat. The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards,” such as heat.
Although this gives employers no specific instruction on how much water, shade or rest to provide employees, OSHA’s heat illness prevention guidance on its website and Heat Safety Tool app provides a roadmap for compliance. Washington Labor & Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), however, does have a standard for heat stress that applies to outdoor work environments from May 1 through Sept. 30, annually, only when employees are exposed to outdoor heat at or above certain temperatures.
The first step is to establish a heat illness prevention program. Several educational and training resources, compliance guidance and factsheets are available on the federal OSHA website as well as on Oregon OSHA and Washington Labor & Industries state plan websites. Industry employers can also quickly access recommendations on OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool app by simply plugging in your work area’s high temperature for the day and its humidity levels. For hop farmers especially, these resources cover the key elements of a complete heat illness prevention program and provide universal recommendations for employers and workers seeking to combat heat illness:
— Drink water throughout the day in small amounts, even when not thirsty (ideally four cups of water every hour for outdoor workers)
— Wear a hat and light-colored clothing
— Gradually increase workloads to build up tolerance or “acclimatize” to working in the heat (it may take up to 14 days or more)
— Modify work schedules to reduce heat exposure and allow frequent rest periods
— Monitor workers for potential heat illness symptoms, such as excessive sweating, headaches, dizziness and confusion
— Train workers to recognize the risk factors, to understand the importance of acclimatization and to know how to prevent heat illness and emergency response.
OSHA’s heat illness prevention campaign is a high priority for the agency and has been running strong each year since its inception. While the message is the same every year, it’s a good reminder that heat illness can be prevented with three simple measures: plenty of water, rest and shade.
Here are a few additional tips for employers to consider as the summer heats up:
Provision of Water
Keep the water cool, keep it close and keep it coming. Where unlimited drinking water is not immediately available, provide enough cool drinking water close by so each outdoor employee can drink a cup every 15 minutes. Avoid drinks containing sugar or caffeine as they can lead to dehydration.
Rest in Shade
Cool-down areas must be fully shaded or air-conditioned. Canvas tailgate tents are one example of the shading OSHA seems to favor, and they are affordable, easy to assemble and provide plenty of room for employees.
Each employee acclimates to heat differently. Consider adopting a buddy system to encourage employees who work together or in close proximity to watch each other for the first signs of heat illness and report any symptoms.
Dinah L. Choi is an employment lawyer with Ogletree Deakins who focuses her practice on workplace safety and health compliance and litigation under the Oregon Safe Employment Act, Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. Dinah frequently speaks on OSHA and MSHA topics and provides training for employers on responding to workplace emergencies and agency enforcement actions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-552-2177.
Chris Morehead is an attorney in the Portland office of Ogletree Deakins, a national labor and employment law firm. He focuses on hospitality employers, with an emphasis on the craft beer industry. He can be reached at email@example.com or 503-552-2140.