In collaboration with the University of Alabama College of Continuing Studies, USPOULTRY recently hosted a webinar focused on protecting the health and safety of those susceptible to heat-related illness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon be releasing new standards on heat stress. Many industries, including poultry and egg producers, will need to review and adapt current practices to ensure regulatory compliance, and most importantly, further enhance the safety of their employees.

Stephanie Lynch and Linda Elswick, University of North Alabama professor and registered nurse, respectively, provided insight into the dangers of excessive heat. They addressed what is meant by heat illness, OSHA guidelines, risk factors for heat-related illnesses, identifying symptoms of heat-related illness and how risks can be mitigated. Nationally, there are an average of 11 heat-related serious injuries or deaths daily, making it the leading weather-related cause of injury and death. The University of Alabama instructors cautioned that many heat-related incidents may go unreported, as heat could be a contributing factor but not the proximate cause of an injury.

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Attendees were advised that each person’s susceptibility to heat-related illness is unique. Employees can be protected from heat-related illness by encouraging fluid intake, allowing rest breaks as needed, providing shade as possible, acclimating new employees to conditions and actively monitoring and interacting with employees to identify and react to the signs of heat-related illness appropriately. Acclimating employees to heat was noted as one of the most important considerations, as 75% of fatalities due to heat illness occur within the first week of working in a hot environment.

In terms of regulatory compliance, employers must develop and train on policies intended to prevent heat-related illness and implement the plan. It should be easy and convenient for workers to hydrate and cool themselves, and supervisors and managers must monitor their employees for signs of heat-related illness. A tool for gauging the approximate danger level was shared with webinar attendees and discussion with attendees also helped to improve understanding of the critical nature of protecting employees from heat-related illness.