Helping Your Employees Cope During a Heat Wave

Triple-digit temperatures in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas Monday are just the latest in a series of record-breaking heat waves that have strained transportation systems, electrical grids, and air conditioning capacities across the country this summer. These are not isolated incidents: With concerns over climate change growing, according to the Global Risks Report 2019, skyrocketing thermometers and extreme weather events could become the new normal. That means it’s imperative for businesses to take steps to keep employees and critical systems cool.

Understand Your Work Environment

Heat waves can affect any business, but some are at greater risk. These include foundries, bakeries, kitchens, and other workplaces that generate heat, or where employees spend significant time outdoors, such as farms and construction sites. Employers should keep a close eye on indoor and outdoor temperatures during heat waves and try to cool down work environments that could heat up quickly. Air conditioning can be incorporated almost anywhere, including cranes and equipment cabs, but keep in mind that moving regularly and/or suddenly from cold to hot environments can be dangerous to any worker. Also consider ventilating exhaust at points of high heat production or moisture, installing reflective shields, insulating hot surfaces, and eliminating steam leaks.

If temperatures become too extreme to work safely, be prepared to voluntarily close your doors to customers and send workers home, even if this could mean lost business. In rare circumstances, such closures might be imposed by local governments seeking to protect people and preserve energy resources. Managing heat exposure for essential emergency response workers, like firefighters and health professionals, or those in critical infrastructure-related occupations, should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Help Your Employees Help Each Other

In extreme heat situations, employees should watch out for each other and know how to identify symptoms of heat-related illnesses so that appropriate first aid can be delivered in time. When temperatures are high, employees should:

  • Limit their sun exposure, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and cover their heads, where possible.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day, even in low-stress, climate-controlled environments.

When working outdoors, employees should also take regular breaks in cool and/or shaded areas and rotate jobs to minimize overexertion.

Mitigating a Meltdown During a Heat Wave

Consider including heat wave responses within your natural hazard and/or climate response plans, as well as your emergency response and business continuity plans. This should include a heat illness prevention plan for your workers, such as the one mandated in California for both indoor and outdoor workers.

As with any crisis management or response plan, you should practice the plan in advance so that leaders and workers know how to operate or when to close the business depending on temperature levels, and how to prevent or treat illnesses.

The increasing frequency and severity of heat wave events means that you should ensure you have solid emergency response, business continuity, and communications plans in place to protect your employees and your bottom line.