Top Heat Stress Safety Tips for Schools
It’s no surprise Texas claimed five of the top six spots on a list of “hottest cities in the United States.” But to be clear, our summers aren’t hot. Conditions between June and September are better described as sweltering, sizzling, or scorching.
Summer is when school floors are stripped and waxed, classrooms are deep-cleaned, and straggling work orders are tackled. Heat, humidity, and physical work can cause heat stress in employees tasked with preparing facilities for the fall semester.
Heat Stress at a Glance
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration tells the story of a 42-year-old roofer who said goodbye to his family one July morning and left for his third day on the job. His employer provided plenty of water, ice, and sports drinks. What they didn’t provide was a formal safety plan.
That afternoon, the man told his co-workers he felt hot and sick. He later died of heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the deadliest form of heat stress. Heat stress happens when temperature and humidity prevent sweat from evaporating. The body can’t cool itself, so our core temperature rises. Heat stress symptoms can include thirst, fatigue, cramps, skin irritation, confusion, nausea, and tragically, death.
It’s Getting Hot(ter)!
Heat stress consistently leads the pack when it comes to weather-related fatalities. The U.S. has set 146 new high-temperature records during the past year, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. If a 2020 Texas A&M study is accurate, no relief is in sight for the Lone Star State.
The study notes the number of 100-degree days in Texas has more than doubled during the past 40 years. That figure could double again by 2036, largely because of climate change.
Core Elements of Heat Stress Safety Plans
Strong safety plans are built on documented procedures communicated across the organization. Your heat stress safety plan should give employees the information and resources they need to protect themselves and each other.
Teach employees how to do their jobs safely, understand heat stress risk factors such as age and weight, recognize heat stress symptoms, and respond to emergencies. Have supervisors start the workday with a quick “tailgate meeting” to remind employees about safety procedures.
Pro tip: Assign employees to work in pairs and monitor each other for heat stress. That's especially important for employees who work in remote areas.
Between 50 and 70 percent of heat stress fatalities happen during the first few days of hot weather, according to OSHA. Acclimatization allows the body to gradually adjust to heat and humidity.
Examples of acclimatization include gradually increasing workloads and scheduling more-physical work during cooler times of the day.
Consider applying acclimatization strategies for:
- All employees before summer weather ramps up
- New employees who aren’t used to working in heat and humidity
- Current employees returning from extended leave or working in hot environments for the first time
Pro tip: Don't exclusively on the thermometer to gauge heat stress risk. The heat index, which combines temperature and humidity, reflects how hot it feels. Remember that heat index doesn’t account for wind, sunlight, heat-producing equipment, or workload.
Water, Rest, Shade
OSHA’s annual heat safety campaign underscores the importance of three simple, powerful preventative measures:
Water. Employees should drink at least 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes while working in the heat, even if they’re not thirsty, according to OSHA.
Rest/Shade. Regularly scheduled breaks in cooler areas such as in the shade, a tent, an area with misters and fans, or an air-conditioned trailer give the body time to cool down. If cooler areas aren’t available, breaks should last longer. Make it clear that skipping breaks violates district policy.
Pro tip: Schedule the most physically demanding work for the coolest times of the day.
One summer in Texas is all it takes to understand that choosing proper clothing and equipment is critical:
- Loose, lightweight, cotton clothing allows sweat to evaporate. Light-colored clothing absorbs less heat than dark colors, and a lightweight hat with a good brim shields the sun.
- Budget-friendly equipment such as sunglasses, reflective clothing, cooling neck wraps, and sunscreen protect employees from the sun and harmful UV rays.
- If you want to invest a little more in your team’s well-being, consider canopies, non-conductive umbrellas, misting fans, and cooling vests.
Pro tip: Remember that some protective gear ramps up the risk of heat stress. For example, dark-colored hard hats could retain more heat than their light-colored counterparts.
Indoor Employee Safety
Employees who work in food service areas, maintenance rooms, boiler rooms, and other areas where heat-generating equipment is housed are also at risk. Make sure their workspaces are cooled and/or ventilated:
- Use air conditioning, general ventilation, cooling fans, and evaporative cooling when possible.
- Install protective shields around heat-producing equipment.
- Increase insulation on furnace walls.
- Add exhaust hoods over areas that release moisture to reduce humidity.
- Eliminate steam leaks.
You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel
Credible regulatory agencies offer tools in a variety of formats for safety-conscious employers. Consider using these free resources to protect your employees from heat stress this summer:
As always, our risk solutions consultants are here to help members identify and manage workplace hazards, including summer heat. Reach out any time you need guidance, training, or resources.
Risk Solutions Staff
The TASB risk solutions team includes risk solutions consultants and communications professionals who deliver training, consultations, articles, and resources that help Fund members control losses and their associated costs.