Every year general and subcontractors have to practice good heat stress management for their workers exposed to the conditions on jobsites nationwide. It is a topic that is addressed every year with more and more resources made available by OSHA. Common sense is that it affects worker productivity, which ultimately influences the bottom line, but the impact on productivity is much more profound than many superintendents, foremen, and project managers realize.
Time is money of course and there is a lot of pressure on general and subcontractors to get the job done on time. OSHA has guidelines regarding heat safety that are the minimums based on temperature. Just because more time has been allowed for worker rest and water breaks doesn’t mean that workers are still able to get what’s expected to be done on time and safely. The decision-making errors also rise significantly with the heat which is not only a safety issue, but potentially a time and financial issue.
If a worker loses just 2% of body weight through perspiring, they are considered to be in a heat-exhausted state. One study determined that there was a 12% productivity decrease between workers that were properly hydrated compared to those that had lost only 1% of body weight loss! Another study looked for impacts on the effects of dehydration on mental performance, decision making and work related accidents. With just a 2% of body weight loss, visual motor tracking, short-term memory, attention and reaction time were all impaired.
Cooling fans and other devices are becoming increasingly common on many jobsites. The inner core temperature of a worker will continue to rise for 30 minutes after work has stopped unless other means are used to cool the blood that has been pumped to the skin for cooling. In other words, fluid intake itself is not enough to prevent heat stress. While there are no specific OSHA standards for occupational heat exposure, many states have issued directives on dealing with the heat.
More and more studies are being done to measure the impact of heat stress on worker safety and productivity. Some studies have come to the conclusion that roughly 90% of heat stress plans/standards put in place by a company are not adequate. Other key points include improper use of the heat index and inadequate time provided to workers to acclimatize to the heat. Even when the temperature is lower, work in direct sunlight adds on average 15 degrees to the heat index.
Heat management is in a gray area because there is no “one size fits all” standard that any regulating body or employer can develop that will absolutely work all the time. This is the reason why there is no firm standard or regulation from OSHA or any state occupational and safety administration. Employers must however comply to the OSH Act and the Act’s General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) which requires employers to provide their employees a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. This “catch all” standard makes dealing with jobsite heat stress an issue where an employer only knows when they get it wrong.
So this heat season remember when up against a deadline, the consensus is that more time resting, cooling and hydrating may just mean finishing a project in time, despite less time actually working. Having properly cooled and hydrated workers is not just for their safety and well-being, but it’s also about the bottom line and safety for everyone on a jobsite.
Information about the Author: Before coming to Marsh & McLennan Agency, known locally as Insurance Associates Company, BJ spent twelve years working for several property and casualty insurance companies with four years in management. He completed his studies through The Institutes and earned the prestigious Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation in 2012. BJ graduated at the gold level from ABC of Metro Washington’s Leadership Development Program. At Marsh & McLennan Agency, known locally as Insurance Associates Company, BJ is first and foremost an advocate for our clients. Whether it’s helping a client to lower their experience mod or using his expertise to get a claim paid for a client, he is always available to help a client with any of their claims needs. In his free time BJ is most likely to be found on the golf course.
By: William (BJ) Westner Jr., CPCU, CRIS
Senior Claims Consultant
Marsh & McLennan Agency, known locally as Insurance Associates Company