The UFCW’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Office has updated guidelines to help locals protect our members from the risk of heat illness this summer as the pandemic continues.
With outside temperatures soaring, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep our members safe from COVID-19 increases the chances of overheating. The use of PPE may trap heat and perspiration on the body’s surface and increase the core body temperature to dangerous levels. Given the dual challenge of moderating the risks of heat stress and exposure to COVID-19, it’s imperative that employers take measures to protect workers who are exposed to heat. For example, employers need to supply replacement cloth face masks more often, since masks may get damp and contaminated in the heat and humidity, making it difficult to breath.
To prevent heat illness, employers should make sure all workers should have access to:
- Adequate amounts of drinking water.
- Regular rest breaks or rest periods in a cool area.
- Regular bathroom breaks, as necessary.
- Increased air circulation through the use of air conditioning, fans and general ventilation.
- Education on the early signs of heat-related illness.
- Time to acclimatize to the heat. It takes about one week for the body to adjust to
working in the heat.
- Cloth face masks that are made out of breathable, moisture-wicking materials to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Hot weather safety strategies should include:
- Training all management and hourly employees with an emphasis on how to
recognize a medical emergency (heat stroke).
- Having a clearly written protocol on how to respond to a medical emergency.
- Training all management and hourly employees on workers’ right to access
drinking water, as needed, and the right to access bathrooms, as needed.
- Monitoring particularly hot work areas and a plan in place for when the heat
index approaches the extreme caution zone.
- Monitoring the use of face masks for workers who work in hot and humid conditions or perform strenuous activities outdoors and allowing workers to remove face masks when they can safely maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others.*
*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mask guidelines are subject to change. Local unions should check both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and CDC websites for updated guidance.
Two major heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion, if left untreated, may progress to deadly heat stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are listed below:
|Heat Exhaustion||Heat Stroke|
Nausea or vomiting
Sweating may or may not be present
Red or flushed, hot dry skin
Any symptoms of heat exhaustion but more severe
Convulsions before or during cooling
Rapid, weak pulse
Note: may resemble a heart attack
The Communications Department has created heat advisory materials in English and Spanish for locals to share with our members here.
“During the upcoming summer months, as heat becomes an even more serious and sometimes fatal workplace hazard, we must continue to push our employers to provide the necessary protections for workers,” said OSH Office Director Robyn Robbins.
For more information about heat and heat-related illness, please have your Region Director contact Robyn Robbins, director of the UFCW OSH Office, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Roy McAllister, assistant director of the UFCW OSH Office, at email@example.com.