Your guide to keeping your employees safe in the Texas heat

Love it or hate it, the Texas summer heat is here. As we creep closer to the inevitable triple digits in many parts of the state, keep in mind that temperature is not an accurate representation of how it really feels and how you should protect yourself. The chart below, known as the hierarchy of controls by safety professionals, identifies what level of protection is needed based on the heat index, which gives you a better idea of how much discomfort you will feel when you go outside.

thermometerPeople who make their living outdoors, as well as those who do physical work in warehouses and other hot indoor spaces, will be at risk of heat illness. As an employer, you need to take steps to protect your staff.

Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD in thermodynamics to avoid heat illness. To avoid heat illness, you need a system for identifying the best ways to protect you and your employees this summer. Safety professionals call it the hierarchy of controls. The rest of us can call it an easy way to keep our cool with hot, humid weather descending on Texas.

How hot does it feel?
When talk turns to heat safety, it’s tempting to take our cues from the thermometer. But temperature only shows half the picture. The heat index, which combines temperature and humidity, is a more accurate reflection of the climate and how it will affect you.
Heat index Risk level Protective measures
Less than 91 degrees Fahrenheit Lower caution Basic heat safety and planning
91 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit Moderate Implement precautions and heighten awareness
103 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit High Additional precautions to protect workers
Greater than 115 degrees Fahrenheit Very high to extreme Triggers even more aggressive protective measures

Engineering controls

Engineering controls deliver the most effective protection against heat illness. Engineering controls eliminate the hazard at its source:

  • Provide air conditioning and/or cooling fans
  • Increase ventilation; provide portable ventilation when possible
  • Install local exhaust ventilation, such as exhaust hoods in laundry rooms and other hot, moist workplaces
  • Redirect heat with reflective shields
  • Insulate hot surfaces, such as furnace walls

Administrative controls

Administrative controls are the second-most effective way to control heat illness. Administrative controls change the way employees do the work. The goal is to reduce exposure to the hazard:

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE is your least-effective control against workplace hazards because it carries risk. PPE could be damaged, and it could give the user a false sense of security. So PPE should always be your last line of defense against workplace hazards:

  • Broad-brimmed hats with neck flaps
  • Light-colored, breathable clothing
  • Safety glasses with tinted, polarized lenses
  • SPF 15-25 sun block
  • Water-cooled garments, air-cooled garments, cooling vests and wetted over-garments
  • Insulated gloves, insulated suits, reflective clothing and infrared reflecting face shields
  • Thermally conditioned clothing, such as a garment with a self-contained air conditioner in a backpack
  • A garment with a compressed air source that feeds cool air through a vortex tube
  • A plastic jacket with pockets filled with dry ice or containers of ice

Remember, if you can’t take the heat, follow the hierarchy of controls. For more tips on heat safety, watch our “Keep your cool this summer” webinar.

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