On July 3rd, 2024, two federal agencies announced resources on how individuals can avoid heat-related illness. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and FEMA are monitoring the risk of extreme heat. The resources released in early July provide tips and resources for how to stay safe. Generally, the two agencies encourage everyone to plan and act to protect themselves against heat-related illness and death. Earlier, in May 2024, the HHS issued new Affordable Care Act nondiscrimination regulations.

An Overview of Extreme Heat

In detail, according to the agencies, extreme heat is the leading cause of death among all U.S. weather-related hazards. However, the health impact is largely preventable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 1,220 people are killed by heat events annually. Older adults, young children, and individuals with health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, are at a greater risk.

“2023 was our hottest year on record. That may be the coolest year we see moving forward as temperatures continue to rise. We must work proactively to protect people from extreme heat,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Rachel Levine.

Tips and Resources to Stay Safe During Extreme Heat

Markedly, the following are tips both agencies recommend employers follow and train workers on to avoid heat-related illness:

  • Stay Hydrated.Drink plenty of water even if you do not feel thirsty. Additionally, avoid drinks with caffeine. If you are on fluid-restricted diets or have a problem with fluid retention, consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
  • Know Your Cooling Options. Identify places in the business where people can go to get cool. If in the field, find locations of cooling options near you from local authorities.
  • Never Leave Another Person, Child (or Pet) in a Parked Car. Always check your car to ensure all persons (and pets) are out of it before leaving and locking it.
  • Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke and How to Respond.
  • A full list of heat and health-related resources can be found on the HHS website.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

In the meantime, employees should also know the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Undoubtedly, they should be able to recognize it in both themselves and their co-workers.

  • Exhaustion: Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, fast or weak pulse, dizziness, headache, fainting, nausea, and vomiting. If someone shows these symptoms, a healthcare provider should be contacted. Additionally, the person should be moved into a cool, shaded area. After that, the individual can be misted with cool water while fanning them. Also, give them water to drink and elevate their feet.
  • Stroke:Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, a fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, passing out, and hot skin. Explicitly, if someone shows these symptoms, 9-1-1 should be called immediately. Meanwhile, move the person into a cool, shaded area and remove any outer clothing. A cold, wet cloth or ice pack should be placed on the head, neck, underarms, and groin. If an ice pack or damp cloth is unavailable, the person’s clothing could be soaked with cool water. Also, try to elevate the person’s feet.

Federal Proposed Rule to Protect Workers from Extreme Heat

Similarly, on July 2nd, 2024, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposed rule to protect millions of workers from extreme heat. In brief, if finalized, the proposed rule would protect approximately 36 million workers in indoor and outdoor work settings. According to the DOL, it would substantially reduce heat injuries, heat-related illness, and death in the workplace.

The proposed rule would require employers to develop an injury and illness prevention plan to control workplace heat hazards. Employers would also be required to:

  • provide training,
  • have procedures to respond if a worker is experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness, and
  • take immediate action to help a worker experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat emergency.

The public is encouraged to submit written comments on the rule once it is published in the Federal Register. The agency also anticipates a public hearing after the close of the written comment period.  More information will be available on submitting comments when the rule is published.

Employer Takeaways

In conclusion, the agencies believe employees can work more safely and effectively by adhering to these extreme heat safety guidelines. In any case, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause. This regulation requires employers to ensure a healthy and productive work environment for all workers. In addition to battling extreme heat, employers should familiarize themselves with six common workplace hazards and find out how to fix them if found.

Presently, OSHA also enforces several workplace safety regulations regarding personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is safety equipment that can prevent specific types of injuries for the workers who wear it. To assist employers in maintaining compliance, WorkWise Compliance offers the following:

  • PPE Compliance Training for Employees This resource contains an online, interactive employee training module and a digital PDF compliance guide for employers. Overall, the program ensures compliance with the assessment, documentation, and training requirements included within OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment standards (29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart I).