April 4, 2022

Don't Just Hydrate, Acclimate

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Louisiana summers are notoriously hot. From June to September, the state experiences average high temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, high humidity can make these temperatures feel as high as 120 degrees.

For employees who work outdoors or in settings that require extensive personal protection equipment (PPE), the threat of excessive heat poses serious health risks, including dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

For employers, heat safety plays a significant role in creating a safe work environment. In addition to health concerns, heat also increases the risk of workplace injuries and possible workers’ compensation claims. While proper education, access to drinking water, and shaded or air-conditioned break spaces can help reduce heat stress, a heat acclimatization plan is a great way to beat Louisiana’s heat, as nearly three out of four heat-related workplace fatalities occur within the first week of work.

What is a Heat Acclimatization Plan?

A heat acclimatization plan works to gradually increase an individual’s heat tolerance by progressively increasing the time or intensity of work performed in hot conditions over a period of several days. Workers who are better acclimated to the high temperatures experience less strain on their vital organs, including the heart. Their bodies also become more efficient at cooling by producing more sweat. However, heat tolerance will begin to decline after one week away from work, and it will return to baseline after about a month. Therefore, it is critically important that workers be reacclimated following any extended period of time away from the job.

Steps in a Heat Acclimatization Plan

Heat acclimatization plans should be specific to each employee and based on their amount of previous experience on the job and how long they have been away from the job. The CDC recommends the following steps:

New Workers

  • Day 1: Allow full intensity work in the heat for no more than 20% of their shift
  • Day 2-5: Increase work time by 20% each day until they reach full exposure

Experienced Workers

  • Day 1: Allow full intensity work in the heat for no more than 50% of their shift
  • Day 2: Increase work time to 60%
  • Day 3: Increase work time to 80%
  • Day 4: Increase work time to 100%

Employers and managers must monitor workers carefully to ensure work times and intensity are not exceeded throughout this process. They must also be thoughtfully aware of any signs of possible heat stress and prepared to address them quickly.

Additional Tools for Workplace Heat Safety

LWCC recommends using the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool to help monitor the local heat index and plan accordingly. The tool's features include a location-based visual representation of the heat index and risk levels, hourly forecast, precautionary recommendations based on current conditions, and heat-related illness signs, symptoms, and first aid protocols.

You can learn more and download the Heat Safety Tool here.

Heat exposure is a necessary component of many jobs. However, with the appropriate tools and precautions, employees can complete their work safely and efficiently. Implementing a heat acclimatization plan to help workers gradually adjust to extreme temperatures is among the most important steps employers can take to protect against heat-related illness, fatalities, accidents, and injuries.

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